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Policy differences 'not hurting support for Pope'

Support for the Pope among British Roman Catholics remains high despite most disagreeing with their Church's stance on controversial issues, a survey indicated today.

Days ahead of Pope Benedict XVI's arrival in the UK, the first Papal visit in 28 years, the poll showed a division between official doctrine on contraception, abortion and homosexuality and the views of the Catholic community in this country.

The majority of respondents expressed firm support for the Pontiff despite saying they believed the Catholic Church was permanently damaged by child abuse scandals.

Just over one in 10 (11%) of Catholics polled for ITV's Tonight programme agreed with the doctrine that abortion should only be allowed as an indirect consequence of life-saving treatment while almost a third (30%) said abortion should always be allowed.

Asked about contraception, 4% agreed with the Catholic Church that it was wrong and should not be used compared with seven in 10 (71%) who felt contraception should be used more often to avoid disease and unwanted pregnancies.

Almost a quarter (23%) said it was entirely up to couples whether they used contraception, the survey found.

More than a quarter (28%) of respondents said it was up to adults to do what they wanted in private and 41% claimed both gay and straight relationships should be celebrated.

This contrasted with 11% of Catholics who supported the Catholic Church doctrine that homosexual acts were morally wrong.

Just under two-thirds (65%) believed Catholic priests should be allowed to marry, with a quarter (27%) saying they should remain celibate.

Questioned about high-profile abuse scandals, the majority (87%) believed they permanently damaged the reputation of the Catholic Church.

But support for the Pope held firm, with 72% saying he should remain in his position, while 14% felt he should stand down.

Meanwhile, campaigners for victims of clergy abuse called for "action not words" at a conference in London on Saturday.

A statutory inquiry into sexual abuse by clergy in the UK, pastoral care and funding to support victims are among the steps that should be taken to address paedophile crime within the Church, according to Minister And Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (Macsas).

Founder Dr Margaret Kennedy said the group plans to hand over a book of messages to the Pope on the issue during his visit.

Thousands of people are expected to line the routes in an attempt to catch a glimpse of the Pope during his four-day trip to Edinburgh, Glasgow, London and Birmingham.

It is the first state visit by a Pontiff to this country and comes 28 years after the six-day pastoral trip by Pope John Paul II to England, Scotland and Wales in 1982.

The Pope is scheduled to celebrate Masses, host a prayer vigil and beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, the 19th century convert to Roman Catholicism in an open-air Mass in Cofton Park, Birmingham.

His visit will include trips by "Popemobile" - in Edinburgh, London and Birmingham - which are expected to attract thousands of onlookers.

Pope Benedict will receive a state welcome from the Queen in Holyroodhouse Palace in the Scottish capital before travelling by Popemobile to the official residence of Cardinal Keith O'Brien, Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh.

The Pope will travel to Glasgow later that day where he is scheduled to preside over a giant open air Mass at Bellahouston Park.

The Pontiff will fly to London on Thursday night to spend two days in the capital where he will meet schoolchildren and representatives of different faiths at St Mary's University College, Twickenham.

He will meet Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace before travelling by Popemobile to deliver an address at Westminster Hall attended by an audience including all four living former prime ministers.

The Pope will also participate in a service of evening prayer at Westminster Abbey and celebrate a Mass at Westminster Cathedral, the mother church of Catholics in England and Wales.

The Pope's stay in London will include meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the acting leader of the Opposition Harriet Harman.

He will visit a residential home for older people in Vauxhall, south London, before travelling by Popemobile to a prayer vigil in Hyde Park, London, currently estimated to be attended by 80,000 people.

The culmination of the visit will be at Cofton Park, Birmingham, on Sunday (September 19) when the Pope will personally beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, bringing him a step closer to becoming England's first non-martyred saint since before the Reformation.

The taxpayer is expected to pay up to £12 million towards the cost of the visit with the Catholic Church contributing up to £10 million. The policing costs could reach £1.5 million, it was estimated last week.

* YouGov polled 1,636 Catholics online between August 31 and September 2.

* Keeping the Faith?: Tonight on ITV1 will be broadcast at 7.30pm on Thursday September 16