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Church condemns abuse as Pope heads to UK

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 14 September 2010

Britain's senior Catholic bishop has admitted that his church has 'made a mess' of its response to child abuse just days before the Pope arrives in the UK for his state visit. Event organiser Lord Patten tells Channel 4 News that the allegations have left an "appalling stain on the Catholic Church".

Pope Benedict prepares to arrive in Britain on Thursday for a state visit (Credit: Getty)

Speaking at a news conference ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols admitted the Catholic Church should have better handled abuse cases. 

"The church has made a mess of its response to incidents of child abuse, and there is nothing that can be said that excuses the crimes committed by members of the clergy against children.

"The damage that has been done strikes right at the core of a person - in their capacity to trust one another, in their capacity to experience love of another, and especially in the context of the Church, in their capacity to believe in God," he said. 

When asked by Channel 4 News home affairs correspondent Andy Davies about the recent sex scandal involving the Catholic hierarchy in Belgium, the archbishop said "the matter now rests with the police".

But he condemned the manner and delivery of the Catholic Church's response to the wider abuse allegations within the church hierarchy that have threatened to engulf the Papacy over the last 18 months.

The former Conservative minister Lord Patten, who is co-ordinating the government's side of the Papal visit, told Channel 4 News the Archbishop's comments echo the "feelings and sentiments of most Catholic Bishops everywhere".

"The abuse of children is like the abuse for a Catholic of Jesus. It's the most awful crime.

"The fact that probably most abuse happens in families and in other churches is absolutely no excuse for it to happen in the Catholic Church," Lord Patten said.

"I have to say that we all recognise that those have been an appalling stain on the Catholic Church," Lord Patten said.

But he defended the way Pope Benedict XVI has handled accusations of abuse by priests.

"The Pope himself, I think it's well attested, was far more concerned far earlier than any of his colleagues in the Vatican, before he was Pope, and has been very severe as he should be on all those abuse cases throughout."

Security has been ramped up ahead of planned protests to coincide with the Pope's visit.

But Lord Patten told Channel 4 News he expects the state visit, which begins on Thursday will be a success.

"It is a very high profile visit. It's the first state visit by a Pope, of course there was a pastoral visit by John Paul II in 1982, which was not without controversy of course... But that was a great success although there were lots of doubts expressed before hand, and I believe the same will be true this time.

"I think there will be some demonstrations and protests. I have to say my own hunch is that they won't be very substantial.

"There'll be a huge number of people coming to see the Pope, to hear the Pope, and I'm sure to hear the repentance he and others offer for what has happened in the Catholic Church," he said.

Relations are "tense"
Benedict XVI, will visit Lambeth Palace to greet the Archbishop of Canterbury, and there will be an ecumenical service in Westminster Abbey, but relations are tense. And not just about the ordination of women.

Rome's decision to set up a special "ordinariat" to receive Anglican clergy who wished to convert was made with little or no consultation with English Catholic bishops, and Dr Rowan Williams seems to have been taken almost completely by surprise.

Dr Williams and Benedict are professional theologians, and are said to get along well enough at a personal level.

But Benedict is not an easy man to like, lacking the charisma of his predecessor. He is, moreover, already well known, and by many disliked, from his years as the Church's doctrinal overseer, whereas John Paul had emerged suddenly from a country long under Communist rule.

Unlike that of Benedict, John Paul's innate conservatism was unnoticed by all except professional Vatican-watchers, but both share many of the same antipathies though Benedict has possibly been more outspoken about homosexuality and the role of women in the Church.

Nor has he budged from traditional teaching on contraception and abortion. The latter issues are not as high on his agenda as they were on John Paul's, but it is these, together with homosexuality and the role of women, which will give rise to protests far more vociferous than were ever heard in 1982.

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Critical poll
However it emerged today that thousands of tickets to the events during the Papal visit to the UK remain unsold, as the latest poll suggests most British people do not support the Pope's trip.

Only 14 percent of those polled said they were in favour of Pope Benedict XVI's state visit, according to a survey by the Populus institute.

More than two-thirds said they were unhappy about the Pope's trip, because of the cost to taxpayers, or the views of the Roman Catholic Church.

The government will pay an estimated £10m for the state visit, with the security bill set to cost an extra £1.5m.

The itinerary
Pope Benedict XVI will arrive in the UK on Thursday 16 September for the four-day visit, that will see him visit London, Scotland and the West Midlands.

The Pope will meet the Queen in Edinburgh, hold an open mass in Glasgow, then travel to London where he will meet Prime Minister David Cameron and host a vigil in Hyde Park.

He will spend his final day in Birmingham on Sunday at an open air ceremony to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman.

South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes, who is co-ordinating the police operation, said the security presence for the pontiff's visit would be "unprecedented".

"It is different because this blend of civil event and religious event is something we have to look at. But there is no intelligence to suggest any specific group will attack the Pope," he said.

Coming to a street near you - the Popemobile
The Popemobiles, which cost £75,000 each, have a bullet-proof glass box for the pontiff to wave to the public.

A driver and a security guard sit in the front of the car, while there is room for two papal aides to sit in the back in front of the Pope's elevated chair.

British drivers chosen by local authorities will drive the popemobiles, which will be powered by green energy. The Popemobile's registration plates read SCV1, which is the abbreviation for Stato della Citta del Vaticano, or Vatican City State.

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Ticket sales
Officials have conceded ticket sales to the major events of the Pope's visit have not done as well as expected.

But Archbishop Vincent Nichols said he was confident Catholics would show "profound loyalty" to the Pope.

"While many would want to suggest differences of trends and opinion, this way or not, I am quite sure, and it is my experience in parish after parish, standing at the back of Westminster Cathedral day after day, that Catholics are looking forward to this visit very much indeed," he said.

Officials expect up to 55,000 people to attend the beatification ceremony for Cardinal Newman in Birmingham.

Earlier this year, it was estimated that 65,000 pilgrims would attend the ceremony.

Organisers have blamed communication problems between parishes for the lack of interest in some events.

Catholics attending the masses at Glasgow, Birmingham and London, have to travel in organised groups with a 'Pilgrim leader' and pay for a 'Pilgrim pack' to offset extra costs.

The pack, which costs up to £25, includes the 'pilgrim passport' to attend the event and a CD of hymns and prayers, featuring Britain's Got Talent finalist Liam McNally.

Commercial message
Other pop stars involved in the papal visit include Britain's Got Talent winner Susan Boyle and 2003 Pop Idol winner Michelle McManus, who will both sing at a mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park.

But the Catholic Church has rejected claims the papal visit is being commercialised.

"If you've got a good message, and I think we have, there's no harm in marketing it in the very best possible way.

"We want to get as many people as possible to listen to the Pope's message, not just specifically members of our Roman Catholic Church," Cardinal Keith O'Brien said.

Baseball caps, electronic candles and customised tee shirts are also available to buy online as part of the official merchandise for the Pope's trip. 

But other companies are also cashing in on the state visit, including UK company Catholics With Attitude which is selling shirts and hoodies featuring proclamations such as 'Team Benedict', 'Vatican All Starts', and 'I love Papa Benny'.

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