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Pope Benedict XVI Meets Abuse Victims As Thousands Protest His London Visit

Pope Benedict XVI met with five victims of priestly child abuse as part of his official trip to Britain, while thousands marched the streets of London in protest against his visit.

The pope weeps during service when he spoke about priestly child abuse

According to a story by Hugh Collins for AOL News, Benedict prayed with the victims and said that the Catholic Church is “continuing to implement effective measures to safeguard young people,” according to a statement from the Vatican.

“He was moved by what (the victims) had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered,” the Vatican said.

Earlier in the day, Benedict offered one of his strongest apologies for the actions of priests who sexually abused children. Speaking at Mass in Westminster Cathedral, Benedict referred to the priests’ actions as “unspeakable crimes.”

“I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers,” Benedict said. “I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives.”

The meeting with the victims took place at the Vatican’s embassy to the United Kingdom. Bill Kilgallon, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, the church group that organized the meeting, told The Associated Press that the victims might not speak with the media.

On Friday, the pope addressed British dignitaries including former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher in a speech at Westminster, thanking them for the official invitation and praising British political and legal traditions. Prime Minister David Cameron was not present, as he was attending his father’s funeral.

Demonstrators gather in London Saturday for what would become the biggest protest of Pope Benedict XVI in his five-year papacy.The Catholic sex abuse scandal has clouded the pontiff’s visit to Britain. (Photo: Carl Court, AFP / Getty Images)

“Hostility towards Benedict has been strong during this visit. Protesters took to the streets today, denouncing the pope’s stance on birth control and the behavior of the Catholic Church in regards to the sexual abuse of children,” said the AOL story.

Protesters carried signs saying, “The pope is wrong – put a condom on,” and “Pope protects pedophile priests.” An estimated 10,000 people took part in the march.

The protesters gathered in London;s Hyde Park, while a crowd of Catholics rallied outside Westminster Cathedral.

Benedict’s words of contrition received a cool reception from representatives of the victims of priestly child abuse

“We don’t need a pope who is sad about crimes. We need a pope who will prevent crimes,” Peter Isely of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement, according to the AP. “And his words prevent nothing.”

Margaret McGuckin, who was abused in the Sisters of Nazareth Orphanage in Belfast, took a more positive line in an interview with BBC News.

“I feel hopeful; I feel he knows he’s hearing the outcry of the people here,” McGuckin said.

Still, even McGuckin said she wished that the pope had gone further in discussing the role of the Catholic Church in covering up child abuse and protecting the perpetrators.

“He should have said about admitting the cover-up that they were responsible for and that it did go right up to the hierarchy,” McGuckin said.

There was greater enthusiasm for Benedict’s words among the faithful gathered at Westminster Cathedral.

“It was very important that he apologized for the abuse that has taken place,” Ann Maria Hayden told The Daily Telegraph. “It showed a lot of humility on his part.”

This is the pope’s first visit to the UK. As part of his packed itinerary, Benedict has met with members of the royal family, spoken with the Archbishop of Canterbury and addressed the country’s elite at Westminster Hall.

Benedict drew fierce criticism Friday when he appeared to link atheism with the horrors of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. Speaking to members of the royal family in a speech in Edinburgh, Scotland, the pope, who was a member of the Hitler Youth, spoke of Nazism as a form of extreme atheism, and urged respect for “traditional values.”

He sounded the same note in a short, philosophical speech at Westminster Hall Friday, warning against the “marginalization” of Christianity.

“There are those who would advocate that the voice of religion be silenced, or at least relegated to the purely private sphere,” Benedict said on Friday. “I cannot but voice my concern at the increasing marginalization of religion, particularly of Christianity, that is taking place in some quarters, even in nations which place a great emphasis on tolerance.”

Benedict again emphasized the importance of religion in informing political life, saying that relying on reason alone contributed to 20th century totalitarianism and the historical slave trade.

Suspects freed

Meanwhile, AFP is reporting that British police have freed six men without charge after they were arrested over an alleged plot to launch an attack during Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit, Scotland Yard said.

“Six men who were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Friday, 17 September, were all released without charge late on Saturday night and early this morning [Sunday],” it said in a statement.

Counter-terrorism police raided a cleaning depot in London early on Friday to arrest five men, aged between 26 and 50, “on suspicion of the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”, police had said. A sixth man was detained later that day.

The men were street cleaners employed in the Westminster district of London where the Pope spent much of Friday and Saturday, the local authority confirmed. Reports said the men were all of North African origin but there was no confirmation from police.

The Vatican on Saturday played down the threat after the arrests of the men. “We never attributed much importance to these arrests,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said.

Day three ended with a huge prayer vigil in Hyde Park

The 83-year-old Pope was “very calm”, he said, and the four-day trip – the first ever state visit by a pope to Britain – was “taking place smoothly”.

Britain’s Sunday Mirror tabloid quoted a police source as saying that the men were arrested after they were overheard joking in a staff canteen about blowing up the Pope with a rocket-propelled grenade.

The day ended on a much more positive note for the pope when around 80,000 people, mainly Catholics, gathered in Hyde Park, London, for a prayer vigil at which he spoke.

The Pope is due to fly from London to Birmingham tomorrow (Sunday) for the beatification mass of John Henry Newman, a convert from Anglicanism to Catholicism, before returning to Rome. Newman was a 19th century writer and theologian who converted from Anglicism to Catholicism.

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