Tens of thousands of people cheered him on his way to a prayer vigil in Hyde Park. Six arrested had been released overnight without charge.
LONDON – Pope Benedict made one of his strongest apologies to victims of sexual abuse by Roman Catholic priests in London, while thousands of marchers staged the biggest protest of any of his trips abroad. As he has done on three previous visits, the pope held a private meeting with victims of sexual abuse on Saturday after telling worshippers at a Mass that paedophile priests had brought “shame and humiliation” on him and the Catholic Church.
“He was moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered,” a Vatican statement said after the pope met five Britons who were abused as children.
“He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice (those) … accused of these egregious crimes,” said the statement. It was nearly identical to those issued after past meetings.
As the meeting took place, some 10,000 chanting demonstrators snaked though the streets of London to protest against his handling of the abuse crisis and his views on homosexuals and the ordination of women.
They carried banners reading “Benedict’s homophobia costs lives” and “Protect the Children – Demote the Pope”. It was the largest demonstration so far on the pope’s four-day visit to Britain, which ends on Sunday in the city of Birmingham, and the largest of any of his 17 trips abroad. In the early evening, he was driven past some of London’s landmarks, including Buckingham Palace, as tens of thousands of people cheered him on his way to a prayer vigil in Hyde Park, where about 80,000 people had gathered. He began the day with a Mass for some 2,000 people in Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics to assert their rights after the Reformation. During a visit to an old age home run by Catholic nuns, he spoke to a group of lay people who oversee the implementation of child protection measures and told them it was important that “any allegations of abuse are dealt with swiftly and justly”. The pope began his last day in London by holding separate meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and acting opposition leader Harriet Harman.
On Friday, anti-terrorism police, on high alert for the pope’s visit, arrested six men in London on suspicion of preparing an attack. Police searched eight homes and two businesses and reviewed their security operation. Police said on Sunday all six had been released overnight without charge. On Sunday the pope went to Birmingham in central England, to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism.