POPE BENEDICT criticised Catholic Church leaders yesterday as “insufficiently vigilant” during decades of sexual abuse of children, as he arrived in Britain to win over one of Europe’s most secular countries.
The German Pope arrived at a time when the Catholic Church is struggling with a global child sex abuse scandal.
In some of his clearest remarks on the scandal, he told reporters aboard the plane taking him to Scotland he was shocked by the revelations.
“It is difficult to understand how this perversion of the priestly ministry was possible,” he said. “It is also a great sadness that the authority of the Church was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently quick and decisive in taking the necessary measures.”
Benedict has a delicate path to tread in England and Scotland in relations with the Anglican Church after his offer last October making it easier for disaffected Anglicans, unhappy over the ordination of women and gay bishops, to convert.
He told reporters it was not the mission of the Catholic Church to change with the times “to try to be more attractive”, but to declare what it believed to be fundamental truths.
Queen Elizabeth, after holding talks with the Pope at her official residence in Scotland, spoke of the common Christian heritage that Anglicans and Catholics shared, and of their common belief that religion should never be allowed to justify violence.
“We know from experience that, through committed dialogue, old suspicions can be transcended and a greater mutual trust established,” she said in a welcome speech.
The Pope told reporters he was not concerned by the prospect of protests against his visit, saying he was certain that Britain’s sense of “respect and tolerance” would prevail.
The Pope paraded through Edinburgh enclosed in the glass of his Popemobile, ahead of his open-air Mass in nearby Glasgow in the afternoon.
A group of about 150 protesters gathered on the route, waving gay rainbow flags, shouting through a megaphone and even blowing on a South-African-style vuvuzela horn.
One banner read “Pope opposition to condoms kills people,” and another: “Stop protecting paedophile priests.”
Benedict said the Church’s top priority was now helping victims heal and regain their trust in the Church.
The Pope’s comments marked his most thorough admission to date of Church failures to deal with the sex abuse scandal, which has exploded anew with revelations in Belgium of hundreds of new victims, at least 13 of whom committed suicide over the years.
Benedict also said abusive priests must never have access to children, saying they suffered from an illness that mere “goodwill” couldn’t cure.
The Pope was answering questions, submitted in advance by journalists travelling with him to Britain, where anger about the abuse scandal remains high. Protests are planned, “Pope Nope” T-shirts have been spotted around London and public discussions of the Roman Catholic Church’s celibacy requirement for priests are being held.
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