Pope Benedict XVI extends hand to a wary Britain
Pope Benedict XVI arrived in Britain today for the first papal trip there since 1982. The visit is clouded by recent sex-abuse scandals and is being met with a distinct lack of reverence.
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In answers to pre-approved questions from Italian journalists on the way to Scotland, the pope said the “revelations” of a child-abuse scandal among priests in a dozen countries were “a shock to me, a great sadness.” He said the first priority was the victims: “What can we do to help them to overcome the trauma, to refind their lives?”Skip to next paragraph
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Sir Stephen Wall, former British Vatican official who has become a church critic, said this week that England’s warm welcome for Pope John Paul II in 1982 was due partly to his persona as a “charismatic superstar,” a hope at the time for Catholic-Anglican reconciliation, and no child-abuse scandal.
But today’s British “resentment is magnified,” Sir Stephen said, “because, for the most part, the present pope is someone whose views are authoritarian and outmoded and who claims a moral authority not borne out by the track record of his church.”
However, says Nick Spenser of the London-based based religion think tank Theos, while the British may not agree with the church on family or sexual teachings, many agree with its social teachings related to the environment, politics, and economics.
Notably, Pope Benedict’s visit is a state one. Along with meeting the queen, tomorrow he visits Prime Minister David Cameron. Over four days he will hold mass at Westminster Cathedral, offer words at two large outdoor events, and beatify 19th century British cardinal John Henry Newman, an educator who converted from the Anglican to the Catholic faith and is credited with restoring credibility to the Catholic Church in England.
The state visit protocol may be fortuitous since it negates efforts by activists – from author and religion critic Christopher Hitchens to human rights activist Geoffrey Robertson to Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society – attempting to “arrest” the pope on human rights charges alleging a papal cover up of child abuse.
A majority of British Catholics, estimated at 9 percent of the country, said in a recent BBC poll that their faith is not “generally valued” in British society. About 70 percent say the pope’s visit will help the British Catholic Church, even if half also say their faith has been shaken by the child sex scandal. Two-thirds said women should have more status and authority in the Catholic Church.