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Pope attacks 'marginalisation of religion' in Westminster speech

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 17 September 2010

Pope Benedict XVI has attacked the "increasing marginalisation of religion" in an historic address to MPs after earlier meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster.

Politicians, MPs and prominent political figures crowded into Westminster Hall as the Pope delivered his key-note address, calling for public figures to promote religious freedom and do more to fight poverty.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown sat beside each other, their first public appearance since the publication of Mr Blair's book earlier this month.

Former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and John Major were also at Westminster for the historic event.

The Pope attacked the "increasing marginalisation of religion" for preventing religious freedom.

"There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere.

"These are worrying signs of a failure to appreciate not only the rights of believers to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion, but also the legitimate role of religion in the public square.

"I encourage leaders in public life to promote dialogue between faith and reason."

He also blamed the global fianacial crisis on a moral failure in society.

"There is widespread agreement that the lack of a solid ethical foundation for economic activity has contributed to the grave difficulties now being experienced by millions of people throughout the world."

He called on governments to help fight against climate change and poverty in the same way they helped to bail out banks thought to be "too big to fail".

"Here is an enterprise, worthy of the world's attention, that is truly 'too big to fail'."

"There needs to be fresh thinking. Where human lives are concerned, time is always short."

Westminster protests
Outside the Palaces of Westminster, thousands of pilgrims lined the streets as the Popemobile arrived at Westminster Hall.

But hundreds of protesters also crowded outside, calling for the Pope to be held accountable for the sex abuse scandal that has engulfed the church.

Earlier, the Pope met Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, for historic talks at Lambeth Palace.

During the meeting, the Pope called for both the Anglican and Catholic faiths to work together to protect Christian values.

"Ecumenical cooperation remains essential," he said.

He acknowledged there were difficulties in the ecumenical relationship, but said he was grateful for the "constantly evolving" friendship between the two faiths. 

"I give thanks for the deep friendship that has grown between us. There is remarkable progress in the dialogue between us. It has evolved in dramatic ways," he said.

The Pope will now meet Archbishop Williams' family before heading across the Thames to Westminster Hall to address MPs, ahead of evening prayers at Westminster Abbey.

Relations between the Catholic and Anglican churches were soured in 2009 when the Vatican moved to make it easier for members of the Anglican communion to convert to Catholicism.

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