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Protesters urged to 'show respect' during Pope's visit

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 08 September 2010

Organisers from 'Protest the Pope' have met police and the Archbishop of Southwark amid concerns next week's Papal visit to the UK could be disrupted by demonstrations. Channel 4 News holds a debate between a protester, and a Catholic.

Organisers from 'Protest the Pope' have met police and the Archbishop of Southwark amid concerns next week's Papal visit to the UK could be disrupted by demonstrations.

Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, held talks with Protest the Pope campaigners Marco Tranchino and Peter Tatchell, the National Secular Society's Terry Sanderson and Chief Executive of the British Humanist Association, Andrew Copson.

Pope Benedict's four-day visit next week will be the first papal visit to the UK since 1982.

The Protest the Pope campaign is planning a rally in central London on 18 September to coincide with the Pope's evening prayer vigil in Hyde Park.

In a statement, Archbishop Smith said he had been given a "very clear assurance" that the campaigners were not planning to disrupt the events planned during the papal visit.

"We had an open and frank discussion on the issues of child abuse, homosexuality and the status of Pope Benedict's visit as a state visit," he said.

The Pontiff will arrive in the UK on 16 September, where he will be welcomed by the Queen in Edinburgh.

He will then travel to Glasgow to hold a Mass at Bellahouston Park. 

Another protest is planned during his address to students at St Mary's University College in Twickenham, west London on 17 September.

However, protester Peter Tatchell, insisted the rallies would be "peaceful and lawful".

"We are pressing for the Pope to open the Vatican sex abuse files and give them to the relevant police authorities worldwide and the archbishop agreed to pass on our request," Mr Tatchell said.

The group is also campaigning against the Catholic church's "intolerant" policies in women's and gay rights.

"There will be Catholics marching with us when we protest and that it is not just non-Catholics who oppose the policies of the Holy See and this state visit," he said.

Papal blessing
Pope Benedict XVI extended his blessing to the British people ahead of next week's visit, thanking them for the "vast amount of work" that has gone into organising security.

"I am very much looking forward to my visit to the United Kingdom in a week's time and I send heartfelt greetings to all the people of Great Britain."

The Pope's address comes after the findings of a poll were released at the weekend showing more than three quarters of people think the taxpayer should not foot the bill for the papal visit, which is expected to reach up to £12 million.

About 80,000 pilgrims are expected to attend an evening vigil in Hyde Park on Saturday, while 65,000 are expected in Birmingham the following day for the beatification of 19th century Anglican convert, John Henry Newman.

A protester and a Catholic explain their views
"We've always said the protests would be peaceful and lawful, there were never any plans to disrupt," Peter Tatchell of the Protest the Pope campaign told Channel 4 News.

"The big outcome of today's meeting was that Archbishop Smith did give an assurance that he would pass on our request that the Pope open up the Vatican sex abuse files and hand them over to the police in the relevant countries.

"The fact that he's failed to do that so very disquieting...and I don't think he can be taken seriously as someone who opposes child sex abuse while he keeps those files hidden and from the police authorities."  

Austen Ivereigh, co-ordinator of Catholic Voices, told Channel 4 News that there would "inevitably" be a cloud over the Pope's visit as a result of the sex abuse scandal.

"There have been tremendous institutional failures, failures of leadership," he said. "But this Pope has been at the forefront of putting it right.

"Just to deal with this Dan Brown idea that there are all these files in Rome that somehow police want to get their hands on - these cases only go to Rome when the civil procedures are finished - in other words the priest has been found guilty of abuse - and then they go to Rome."

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