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Description: EDINBURGH, Scotland As Pope Benedict XVI arrived here Thursday for the first state visit to Britain by a pope, he offered his strongest criticism yet of the Roman Catholic Churchs handling of the sex abuse crisis, saying it had not been sufficiently vigilant or sufficiently swift and decisive in cracking down on abuser
Speaking to reporters on his flight from Rome, Benedict also said that the churchs first interest is the victims.
I must say that these revelations were a shock for me, a great sadness, he said of the crisis that has undermined the churchs moral authority in many parts of Europe and beyond.
He expressed sadness also that the authority of the church was not was not sufficiently vigilant and not sufficiently swift and decisive to take the necessary measures.
His remarks showed that the Vatican had perhaps begun to learn from its mistakes after months of stumbling in its response to the crisis.
Asked how the church could restore the faith of those shaken by the revelations of widespread priestly abuse, the pope said: The first interest is the victims and the church needed to determine how can we repair, what can we do to help them to overcome the trauma, to refind their lives.
He was responding in Italian to reporters questions submitted in advance and relayed to him by Vatican officials. His words may have been designed to pre-empt a potentially hostile reception in Britain provoked by the churchs response to the abuse scandal.
The popes four-day stay, the first by a pontiff since his predecessor, John Paul II, paid a pastoral visit to Britain in 1982, was likely to be marked by a sustained effort to counter a perceived loss of religious belief in Britain and urge a new struggle against secularism.
The popes first appointment on Thursday was with Queen Elizabeth II in Edinburgh, before officiating at a mass in Glasgow. The visit is laden with historical reference points since the days of the reformation when King Henry VIII of England broke with Rome in the 16th century, provoking centuries of anti-Catholic passions that linger still in parts of Britain.
The pope met her at Holyrood House, her official residence in Scotland.
The queen is the formal head of the Church of England, whose relationship with Roman Catholicism remains uneasy. Anglicans accuse the Vatican of seeking to lure away protestant priests opposed to the ordination of women and gay clergy.
Gay and human rights activists, incensed by the popes handling of sex abuse scandals involving priests in many parts of Europe including his native Germany have threatened to protest the visit. Opponents of the trip have planned a march and rally in London on Saturday and there has been speculation that some activists may attempt to make a citizens arrest of the pope.
Many British commentators have drawn unfavorable comparisons between Benedicts visit and the rapturous welcome offered 28 years ago to John Paul II, noting that tickets for some papal events have remained unclaimed. Church leaders in Britain have been trying to urge a big turn-out on the streets of Edinburgh to show support for Benedict, who is generally seen as less of a crowd-pleaser than the charismatic John Paul II.
The unease in the relationship with Britain deepened when Cardinal Walter Kasper told a German magazine that arriving at Londons Heathrow airport was like arriving in a third world country. Cardinal Kasper had been due to accompany the pope but the Vatican said he would not participate on health grounds.
The cardinal retired recently as head of the Vatican department overseeing the fraught dialogue with Anglicans.
With some symbolism, a central part of the popes mission in Britain is to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, an Anglican convert to Catholicism who worked to bring the two churches closer in the 19th century. Beatification is an important step toward sainthood.
But, like much of the Vaticans public dealings, the overwhelming issue confronting Benedict is the abuse scandal, in which critics have accused the hierarchy of failing to take resolute action against abusers and sheltering them from civil courts.
The latest case in the United States came with news on Wednesday that a prominent Harlem priest who helped arrange the popes New York visit in 2008 has resigned, two years after he was suspended on charges of sexually abusing high school students he taught in the 1980s.
In Europe, the most recent revelations of abuse have come from Belgium where the leader of the Roman Catholic Church on Monday acknowledged the scale of the scandal and offered to no more for victims.
The Belgian church leader, Archbishop Andr-Joseph Lonard, said it was too soon for a detailed response to the crisis. The lack of more comprehensive steps was greeted with anger by representatives of victims, with one lawyer calling the churchs response scandalous.
Much of the victims anger in Belgium has focused on the former bishop of Bruges, Roger Vangheluwe, who resigned in April after admitting that he had abused a boy later revealed to be his nephew. Bishop Vangheluwe said Saturday that he would leave the Trappist monastery where he had been living and go into hiding.
Protected from prosecution by the statute of limitations, he has faced increasing calls to give up his status as a priest. Archbishop Lonard said it was for the Vatican to decide on any punishment.
Gregorio Borgia/Associated Press
Pope Benedict XVI greeted journalists aboard the plane to Edinburgh on Thursday,
Year Created: 2010