Crisis will not overshadow UK visit by Pope Benedict, say church leaders

Wed, Mar 17, 2010, 00:00

BRITISH REACTION:THE CRISIS involving Cardinal Seán Brady over Fr Brendan Smyth and other clerical abuse charges is one for the Irish Catholic Church and should not overshadow Pope Benedict’s visit to England and Scotland this September, British church leaders said in London yesterday as they announced details of the visit.

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh and president of the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, and Archbishop Vincent Nichols were asked repeatedly whether the pope will respond to charges made against the church about clerical sex abuse during his four-day visit – the first papal visit to the United Kingdom since Pope John Paul II came in 1982.

“We do not know whether he will address that subject. We are quite a different country from Ireland, or France or wherever else. Basically, I do not know whether he will address that particular subject,” said Cardinal O’Brien, while Archbishop Nichols said English, Welsh and Scottish bishops have “robust” rules in place to protect children.

The abuse of children and vulnerable adults was, and is “shameful”, said Archbishop Nichols: “The abuse of any one child by anybody is a tragedy, and it is unacceptable wherever it happens. I believe that people in this country will recognise in the pope an eloquent and gentle and profound teacher of all that is right and just.”

He went on: “The Catholic Church in this country [Britain] has tackled the issue steadfastly and systematically, and Catholics in this country have confidence in their priests. We have dealt with the issue of sex abuse in England and Wales for several years. Abuse is a tragedy and is unacceptable,” he said.

Pope Benedict will start his UK visit in Edinburgh on September 16th, where he will be greeted by Queen Elizabeth II in Holyrood House, before saying an open-air Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park. Later, he will pray in Westminster Abbey, and deliver a speech in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament.

In Coventry, he will beatify 19th century theologian Cardinal John Henry Newman, who spent some of his life in Dublin, before visiting Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace.

Newman was one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism, and was a key figure in the Oxford movement, which sought to bring the Church of England closer to Rome.

The visit, which will cost £15 million (€16.6 million) to host, is in diplomatic terms a state visit – unlike Pope John Paul II’s, which was deemed to be a pastoral visit only. Unlike other state visits, there will not be a procession in a gilded carriage up the Mall, nor a banquet at Buckingham Palace. Neither will the pope stay in Buckingham Palace, but will reside in church property.

Relations between the Catholic and Anglican churches were strained last year after Pope Benedict decided to set up a new structure within the Catholic Church to cater for those in the Anglican Church who wish to leave it.

Reflecting the tensions, perhaps, Dr Rowan Williams issued a statement which was regarded as diplomatically lukewarm by some quarters in London last night.

“The pope’s visit will be an opportunity to cement ties not only between the Holy See and the United Kingdom but also the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian churches in Scotland, England and Wales. I look forward particularly to welcoming Pope Benedict to Lambeth Palace on behalf of the Church of England,” said the head of the Anglican Church.

Meanwhile, Vatican secretary of State Tarcisio Bertone yesterday criticised what he said was a bid to undermine the church, without referring directly to the paedophilia scandal.

Cardinal Bertone, number two in the Vatican hierarchy, said after meeting Italian business leaders: “The church still enjoys great confidence on the part of the faithful, it is just that someone is trying to undermine that . . . but the church has special help, from above,” he added. – (Additional reporting, Reuters)