In UK, Abject Pope Apologizes For Sex Scandals
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The pope is on his third day of his state visit to Britain. Today, he confronted the child sex-abuse scandal that's thrown the Roman Catholic Church into crisis. Pope Benedict held a private meeting with five people abused by church clerics.
As NPR's Philip Reeves reports, he also made his strongest ever public statement on the issue.
PHILIP REEVES: The pope chose to address the scandal in a solemn and pious setting - Mass at the mother church for England's Catholics, Westminster Cathedral in London. The congregation, including many Catholic clerics, listened in silence.
POPE BENEDICT XVI: I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the church and by her ministers. Above all, 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.
REEVES: This was the pope's most emotional attempt so far to reach out to the multitude of victims of abuse by Catholic priests. He spoke of his deep shame, and his desire to help heal the victims.
Later, as he has on other foreign visits, he held a private meeting with a few of the victims. Brian Doherty from Northern Ireland was not among them, though he, too, is a victim.
Mr. BRIAN DOHERTY: I was put in an orphanage 3 weeks old 'til I was 14 and a half, and I was abused big time. There's six people from my home who committed suicide. Some of them had been raped by the priests.
REEVES: Doherty's standing in a crowd of some 10,000 people near London's Hyde Park Corner. This is the largest demonstration against the pope's visit to Britain so far.
(Soundbite of applause)
REEVES: Some have come here to express their anger at the Vatican's policies on birth control, homosexuality and women priests. Many, including Doherty, brandish banners denouncing the sex-abuse scandal. Doherty says the pope's words today didn't go far not enough.
Mr. DOHERTY: We want an apology from the pope. Come over to Ireland and apologize to us, or see some of our groups. Why doesn't he answer some of the letters? If he can come over to the island there and apologize to us, I would accept an apology. But I would also accept if he got rid of the priests who've been abusing us. Get those bad apples out because there is a hell of a lot of them in Ireland, still working - and nuns.
REEVES: Other victims have complained that the pope still hasn't addressed the issue of the church's cover-up of the sex-abuse scandal. Market researcher Lucie Holliday, another proteser, didn't think much of the pope's statement today.
Ms. LUCIE HOLLIDAY: It's just about the least I would possibly expect, a -apology that's been pretty much forced out of him many, many, many years too late. The fact there are still priests in office who are proven child abusers means it's simply not gone anywhere near far enough.
Ms. JOSEPHINE ROBINSON (Chairman, Association of Catholic Women): It was very, very good. He hit it just exactly right.
REEVES: Josephine Robinson is chairman of the Association of Catholic Women. She was among a crowd of tens of thousands that gathered in Hyde Park for an evening prayer vigil with the pope.
Ms. ROBINSON: Scandals are awful. It's just dreadful when it's priests that are involved. The fact that it's a few priests doesn't make it any better. It shouldn't be any. And that he took on so completely the suffering of the people who have suffered, I thought he put over most beautifully. And one feels that some people will certainly be moved by it.
REEVES: This visit to Britain has been very difficult for Pope Benedict. He's faced anger and suspicion. Yet like many in the crowd around her, Robinson says the pope's trip is, so far, a great success.
Ms. ROBINSON: I think he's managed it absolutely wonderfully. I mean, his total sincerity comes through all the time. And of course, he's so intelligent and so holy. And you can't meet real holiness without loving it, I think.
REEVES: Tomorrow, the pope goes to the city of Birmingham for the beatification of the great Victorian philosopher and Catholic convert, Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, London.
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