Thousands protest at Pope's visit

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The Independent Online

Thousands of protesters gathered on the streets of London today to demonstrate against Pope Benedict XVI's state visit.

Organisers estimated up to 10,000 were due to join the march to Downing Street in opposition to the papal tour.



Campaigners held aloft banners stating "the Pope is wrong - put a condom on" and "Pope protects paedophile priests" as they joined the march.



The action is supported by the British Humanist Association and the National Secular Society among others.



Protesters cite a number of grievances against the Vatican's stance on issues ranging from gay rights, the use of condoms and the Church's response to clerical sex abuse.



Among those in attendance is human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.



The seasoned campaigner hit out at the use of taxpayers' money being used to fund the visit.



He said: "The Vatican isn't a state, it is not recognised as a country by the UN.



"To give the Pope head of state status is wrong and to give him immunity against prosecution is wrong - no one should be above the law."



Mr Tatchell also criticised Pope Benedict's homily at Westminster Cathedral stating that he did not go far enough in taking personal responsibility for the crimes of paedophile priests.



"The Pope keeps on apologising for the failings of everyone but himself," he said.



"He hasn't admitted his own shortcomings and even today he fails to hand over to police across the world the files he has kept on paedophile priests.



"That makes him an accomplice to sex crimes against children."



Comedian Al Murray also figured among the crowd.



He said: "Like a lot of people I am a perplexed that it is a state visit.



"The Pope's opposition to condoms kills people.



"It is all very well him lecturing us on morals but he should look at his own organisation's view."



Asked how his alter-ego The Pub Landlord would react to the visit, Murray replied "he doesn't like it either but that is because he is a fan of Henry VIII because of his marriage arrangements".

Speaking at the march Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society (NSS), said "the days of popes is over".

He said: "This is a secular country, we are a secular nation.



"The Pope should take his religion home with him and leave us to arrange our society as we want it.



"The days of popes is over. We are no longer listening to religious leaders - we get our morality from other places."



The NSS leader added that he was very pleased with the turnout.



"It is heading towards 10,000. It is very gratifying to see secularism on the streets like this."

Ahead of marches setting off from Hyde Park Corner to their Downing Street destination, protesters heard from a victim of clerical sex abuse.

Sue Cox, 63, from Gaydon, Warwickshire, told the gathered crowds that the Pope's visit was "egotistical, arrogant and selfish".



She continued: "How dare he suggest that secularism does not accept or tolerate traditional values?



"If his traditional values include enabling child abuse and lying about it, homophobia and calling gay and lesbian people inclined to moral evil, charging a fee for his performance to an entire country despite a large percentage of his following scavenging for scraps on rubbish tips, ruling with fear of hell and ex-communication, showing more intolerance than any other religion I have ever experienced, showing hate, disdain, and the purest forms of narcissism - then I am proud to stand up and say that I do not accept his traditional values."



She added that her own experience from the Catholic Church was "pain, anger, fear, terror, disgust, lies, shame, violence, sneering, disdain, and disempowerment."



She concluded her speech by warning the Vatican that they would no longer be able to get away with overlooking clerical sex abuse.



"We will continue to watch and shout out and work towards change. This is not over," she said.



The turnout was five times greater than expected before the event, protest organisers said.

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