Cardinal pulls out of visit to 'third world' UK

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A cardinal due to travel to the UK with the Pope has pulled out just days after claiming Britain was like a "third world country".

German-born Cardinal Walter Kasper, 77, was to make the trip as part of the Pope's entourage.

Vatican officials have reportedly attributed the change of plans to ill health.

But the news followed an interview the Cardinal gave to German magazine Focus in which he commented on the Godlessness of a section of English society claiming Britain was facing an "aggressive new atheism" and that "Christians were at a disadvantage".

Asked about the protests expected to greet the Pope's visit, he remarked on Britain's multi-cultural inhabitants, telling the magazine that someone landing at Heathrow may think they were in a "third world country" as there was such a variety of faces there.

The Catholic Church in England and Wales distanced itself from Cardinal Kasper's comments.

A spokeswoman said: "The attributed comments of Cardinal Kasper do not represent the views of the Vatican, nor those of bishops in this country.

"Clearly they are the personal views of one individual. Catholics play a full part in this country's life and welcome the rich diversity of thought, culture and people which is so evident here.

"This historic visit marks a further development of the good relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. We are confident that it will be a huge success."

Among the groups planning to protest the Papal visit are the survivors of abuse by Catholic priests.

Speaking as the final preparations were made for the four-day trip, a group of victims renewed their calls for the Pope to hand over all information on the scandal.

They demanded that Pope Benedict XVI "make amends" for their suffering by going further than offering an apology.

Peter Saunders, survivor and chief executive of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, said: "We need the Pope to say, 'I will hand over all the information I have about abusing priests wherever they are in the world. I will hand it over to the authorities of the countries where these people are being protected'."

The Pope is widely expected to meet child abuse victims during his four-day visit.

But the survivors at a news conference in central London said they had not heard of anyone being offered a meeting with him.

And they were divided on whether they would like to meet him themselves.

Margaret Kennedy, 57, from Dublin, said she would like to talk to him but did not want a secretive meeting behind closed doors.

She said: "We have been refused three times access to the Pope. This means the only way survivors can meet the Pope is by protesting in the street or behind closed doors, where it's orchestrated, managed, controlled. Abuse is about control.

"The Pope is saying 'You come to me and you don't tell anyone what I tell you'.

"It's secret, secret, secret."

She demanded "truth, justice and accountability" from him, adding: "We don't want to hear another apology."

Sue Cox, 63, from Gaydon, Warwickshire, who was raped by a priest in her childhood, said she felt offended by the Pope's visit and did not want to meet him.

She said: "I don't think the Pope should meet abuse victims. Why would abuse victims want to be part of this publicity stunt?

"Saying sorry is easy, offensive and inadequate. What he needs to do is make amends."

The survivors called on the Catholic Church to provide better funding for the support of victims of abuse.

Mr Saunders, 53, said: "We need resources. The Catholic Church is the richest organisation in the world. They could make resources available, no strings attached."

He added that if the Pope was a head of state, he should be arrested when he comes to the UK.

He said: "I'm not a lawyer, but my understanding is he should probably not be accorded a state visit because he's head of something which is not really a state.

"But if he was the head of a legitimate state, then I would say that under international law he should probably be arrested, in the same way that we arrested General Pinochet when he was in the country."

Responding to reports today that more than half the Catholic clergy jailed for child abuse in England and Wales remained in the priesthood, he said the Church lived in "cloud cuckoo land".

"Whether they are defrocked or laicised, what's important is these abusers must be monitored and taken care of because they could still be a danger to children," he said.

David Greenwood, a solicitor who specialises in church sex abuse, called for a compensation scheme for victims in the UK similar to that introduced in Ireland.

He said: "I do see it as a model."

The Pope arrives in Edinburgh tomorrow before he travels on to Glasgow, London and Birmingham.

In the first state visit by a Pope to Britain, he will meet the Queen and Prime Minister David Cameron during his stay.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to attend several scheduled public events, culminating in a beatification ceremony for Cardinal John Henry Newman on Sunday.

The visit has attracted criticism not only by Catholic child abuse victims but also several other groups, including gay rights organisations.

And a number of high profile critics argued today that the Pope should not be given the honour of a state visit.

In a letter to The Guardian, Stephen Fry, Professor Richard Dawkins, Terry Pratchett, Philip Pullman, Ed Byrne, Ken Follett, Professor AC Grayling, Claire Rayner and almost 50 others objected to a number of Papal policies.

These included: opposing the distribution of condoms; denying abortion to "even the most vulnerable women"; opposing equal rights for homosexuals and "failing to address" the child abuse problem.

They wrote: "We reject the masquerading of the Holy See as a state and the Pope as a head of state as merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican."

The Pope will visit London on Friday and Saturday, when he will meet Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Prime Minister, and host a prayer vigil in Hyde Park.