POPE BENEDICT spoke yesterday of how his childhood was blighted by the Nazis as he ended a turbulent visit to Britain.
The Pope used a mass of beatification attended by more than 50,000 people in Birmingham to mark the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain by denouncing the “evil ideology” that dominated his native Germany while he was growing-up.
“For me, as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you on this occasion, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology,” he said.
Benedict joined the Hitler Youth as a teen, and there has been controversy as to what extent this was forced or voluntary. Later he was conscripted into the German armed forces and served in an anti-aircraft unit until he deserted in the dying days of World War II.
The beatification of Victorian convert Cardinal John Henry Newman, who was involved in establishing the Catholic University of Ireland, later to become UCD, was the first ever to take place on British soil and marked the climax of a four-day visit which has commanded intense interest and much controversy.
Groups representing survivors of clerical sex abuse stepped up demands for the Pope to apologise fully for what happened and the way the Church had tried to cover-up the crimes said his comments on the matter did not go far enough.
The Pope privately met five survivors of clerical abuse on Saturday, including a woman abused in Ireland, and made his strongest public remarks so far on the issue.
“I express my deep sorrow to the victims of these unspeakable crimes,” he told the congregation at Westminster Cathedral which included Tony and Cherie Blair.
More than 10,000 people demonstrated against the Pope’s visit in London, demanding he change his attitudes towards women, gay rights and the use of condoms in combating the spread of HIV/Aids.
However, tens of thousands lined the route of his Pope mobile journey to a prayer vigil in Hyde Park which attracted the biggest crowds of his tour. The central theme of his tour was to warn Britain not to exclude religion from public life as it embraced secularism.
Cardinal Newman has long been a major influence on the Pope, however some have questioned his suitability for sainthood as Vatican rules state there must be evidence of at least two miracles before canonisation.
Newman has so far been ascribed one – the healing of an American deacon with a spinal injury, but some experts say this would have occurred of its own accord.
Meanwhile, questions were being asked of Scotland Yard after police released six men arrested in connection with a supposed terror threat to the Pope.
Reports suggested the men, with North African connections, may have been swooped on after being overheard joking about the papal visit.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved