Catholic Britain rejoices, but abuse overshadows Pope's first state visit

Gap in itinerary may hide secret meeting to apologise to victims

Plans are being drawn up for the Pope to hold private meetings with people who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of clerics during this week's visit to Britain.

Benedict XVI arrives in Edinburgh tomorrow morning, in the first state visit to Britain by a pope. His trip represents a seminal moment in the relationship between the Vatican and a country that helped spearhead the Reformation with its spiritual break from Rome.

But it will also be a major opportunity for the Catholic Church to cast itself in a new light following one the most troubled years in its recent history with scores of new clerical sex abuse scandals breaking out in western Europe, the United States and parts of Latin America.

Church officials have refused to comment publicly on whether the Pope will reach out to abuse victims during his visit. But The Independent understands that plans have been drawn up for the pontiff to hold private meetings. These will still require final Vatican approval.

Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, has said that the Pope has been giving "careful consideration" to such a meeting. Observers say it is now highly unlikely that Benedict will not make some sort of gesture that recognises the harm caused by abusive priests.

Previous visits to Malta, Australia and the United States all included emotional meetings with abuse victims which were regarded as a visibly important step in the Church's public response to an issue that has dogged the Vatican for more than a decade.

Vatican policy dictates that meetings with abuse victims are never publicised in advance and church officials refused to comment publicly on whether they would go ahead.

"Over a number of previous visits there have been meetings between the Pope and those who have suffered sexual abuse," a source with knowledge of the visit said. "There are very strict parameters that govern how these meetings take place. The first is that the talks are private with no mediators. The second is that these meetings are never announced beforehand."

But seasoned commentators say a meeting is all but certain. "To not hold some sort of meeting would be a PR disaster," said one prominent Catholic who asked to remain anonymous. "It would send a terrible message."

Successive polls have shown a palpable indifference to the Pope's visit among non-Catholics and a growing gulf between the Pope's teachings and the opinions of ordinary lay Catholics in Britain. A new poll of more than 2,000 people released by ITV's Daybreak today, however, has also found that 80 per cent of Britons would like the Pope to issue some sort of apology for the worldwide clerical child abuse scandal during his visit.

Amnesty International yesterday also called on the Vatican to do more to address concerns surrounding child abuse, including doing more to co-operate with criminal investigations, open up records of its internal inquiries to public scrutiny, and to offer an apology and reparations to all survivors of abuse.

Kate Allen, director of Amnesty International UK, said: "While the Pope has acknowledged the gravity of the abuse, more needs to be done to offer redress to the victims and prevent these abuses from reoccurring."

If a meeting with abuse victims does go ahead the most likely time for it to take place is on Saturday, the only day in the Pope's four-day itinerary that has a significant amount of spare time.

On Saturday morning, the 83-year-old pontiff will pay a series of courtesy calls to prominent politicians, including David Cameron. He will then travel to Westminster Cathedral to celebrate a 10am Mass but there will then be a five-hour break before the Pope holds a prayer vigil in Hyde Park.

There is also some space for private meetings to take place between the Pope and chosen members of his flock on Friday when Benedict visits thousands of school children in Twickenham, west London.

In his final briefing yesterday to reporters before the Pope touches down, Archbishop Nichols admitted that the global Catholic Church should have done better in its handling of clerical abuse. "The Church has made a mess of its response to incidences of child abuse," he said. "There is nothing that can be said to excuse the crimes committed by members of the clergy against children. The damage that is done strikes right at the core of a person; in the capacity to trust another; in their capacity to love another and – especially in the context of the Church – in their capacity to believe in God."

But the Archbishop also reiterated his belief that British Catholics would greet the pontiff with open arms.

"The Catholic tradition in this country is one of actually very profound loyalty to the person of the Holy Father," the Archbishop said. "While many would want to suggest differences of trends and opinion, this way or not, I am quite sure, and it is my experience in parish after parish, standing at the back of Westminster Cathedral day after day, that Catholics are looking forward to this visit very much indeed. The Catholic people of this country know what it is to show their affection and support for Pope Benedict."

In the run-up to the Pope's visit new attempts have been made by the Church to reach out to abuse victims.

Last month members of the Catholic Safeguarding Advisory Service met a number of survivor groups – including the Survivors Trust and Macsas (Ministry and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors) – to discuss future pastoral care for victims.

Dr Margaret Kennedy, the founder of Macsas, said: "It was a rather acrimonious meeting to be honest. A lot of survivors feel fed up with the way they were treated by the Church and feel this is too little, too late."

Macsas says that it has requested a public meeting with the Pope to give him a book of survivor testimonies. Its requests have so far been refused, with the Church instead offering to give the book to the Pope "via an intermediary".

The Pope's visit in numbers

Length of visit: 4 days.

Number of venues the Pope will visit in UK: four (Edinburgh, Glasgow, London, Birmingham).

Number of tickets originally placed on sale: 255,000.

Tickets sold: 219,000 (est.).

Expected attendance at open-air Mass in Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, on Friday: up to 80,000. (Price of tickets: up to £20.)

Expected attendance at prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, on Saturday: 85,000. (Price of tickets: £5.)

Expected attendance at Cofton Park, Birmingham, at Mass celebrating the beatification of John Henry Newman on Sunday: 54,000. (Price of tickets: up to £25.)

Roman Catholics worldwide: 1.166 billion.

Roman Catholics in England, Scotland and Wales: about 6 million.

Weekly Mass attendance in UK: about 1.1 million.

Number of active Catholic priests in England, Scotland and Wales: 4,400.

Estimated cost of visit: up to £20m. UK taxpayers' contribution to cost of visit: up to £12m.

Members of Pope's entourage whose accommodation will be paid for by the British taxpayer: 11.

Years since last papal visit: 28.

Number of reigning Popes who have previously visited UK: 1.

Number of English-born Popes: 1 (Nicholas Brakespear – Adrian IV – Pope from 1154 to 1159).

Estimated cost of policing the Pope's visit: £1.5m.

Expected attendance at Saturday's Protest the Pope rally in London: 2,000.

Lines of official memorabilia on sale during trip: 80.

Price of official papal visit gold medallion: £775.

Price of official T-shirt: £18.

Price of official baseball cap: £15.

Estimated value to Glasgow and Edinburgh of economic boost resulting from visit: £13m.

Area of Vatican: 1.2 square miles.

Nations with which the Vatican has diplomatic relations: 178.

Nations in which Roman Catholic priests have been accused of child abuse: 28.

Total damages likely to be paid to abuse victims in the US alone: $5bn.

Suggested Topics
Voices
On the last day of campaigning before the polling booths open, the SNP leader has written to voters in a final attempt to convince them to vote for independence
voicesIs a huge gamble on oil keeping the First Minister up at night?
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't
tv

Liam Neeson's Downton dreams

Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Travel
travelWhy Japan's love hotels are thriving through an economic downturn
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
Alexander McQueen A/W 2014
fashionPolitics aside, tartan is on-trend again this season
Arts and Entertainment
Rapper Jay Z performs on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury in 2008
musicSinger sued over use of the single-syllable sample in 'Run This Town'
Sport
Joel jumps over the board...and into a giant hole
footballFrom joy to despair in a matter of seconds
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC
tv

Much-loved cartoon character returns - without Sir David Jason

Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me
tv

Actress to appear in second series of the hugely popular crime drama

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Volunteer your expertise as Trustee for The Society of Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Promising volunteer Trustee op...

Email Designer

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Psychology Teacher

£110 - £130 per hour: Randstad Education Reading: Psychology Teacher needed fo...

Food Technology Teacher

£85 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Cheshire: Randstad Education are curren...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week