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September 19, 2010 7:22 pm
Pope Benedict XVIth has signalled that the Catholic Church should involve civil authorities, including the police, in child sex abuse investigations.
His praise for bishops who “deal properly and transparently with allegations” came on the last day of a state visit during which the pontiff quelled some of the animosity toward the Church that sex abuse scandals have engendered.
Suspicions that the Vatican was complacent about the issue had threatened to overshadow the trip, whose high point òn Sunday was the beatification of Cardinal Newman, a theologian whose writings reconcile modernity with tradition.
The pontiff’s mission in visiting the UK was to combat money-driven secularism. He flew back to Rome after delivering parting shots against the banks, whose “ill-advised investment practices” he blamed for the world recession.
In an address to bishops at Oscott College just outside Birmingham, Pope Benedict said that abuse of young people by priests “seriously undermines the moral credibility of the Church” and acknowledged that the problem had often been dealt with inadequately in the past. There is a history of the Church covering up cases of child abuse. But the Pope urged bishops “to share the lessons you have learnt with the wider community”.
Bill Kilgallon, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, said the Pope, who met five abuse victims on Saturday, had told him “it was very important how we co-operated with civil authorities”.
In the UK, the Church reports alleged child sex abuse to the police while also conducting its own investigations. Benedict stopped short of advocating the adoption of that system worldwide, but Catholic commentators believe he now sees it as best practice.
The Pope’s openness concerning child abuse helped defuse criticism of his visit, giving greater prominence to high points such as the beatification. The leader of the world’s Catholics broke his personal rule that he does not preside over beatifications to move Cardinal Newman one step closer to sainthood. The ceremony was attended by more than 50,000 Catholics at Cofton Park, a natural amphitheatre adjacent to the largely derelict Rover Cars factory in south Birmingham.
The 83-year-old was greeted by a rain-spattered but enthusiastic crowd, some of whom waved home-made banners bearing such legends as “Blest is Best” and “100 per cent Catholic”. Clare Horrocks, 15, from Streetly, West Midlands, showed off digital camera images of the pontiff waving from the popemobile, saying: “This is a once-in-a- lifetime event. You feel blessed to be here.”
Ms Horrocks had left her nearby home at 5.30am to join fellow pilgrims who boarded about 1,000 coaches to travel to Cofton Park.
Benedict is a less charismatic and more scholarly pontiff than John Paul II, his predecessor.
But the visit allowed him to project a warmer personality – noticeable in his shy smile – than prior coverage had given him credit for. Jimmy Burns, a reporter with the Catholic Tablet magazine, said: “A lot of Catholics were very apprehensive about this visit because it was overshadowed in the secular media by sex abuse scandals ... but it has defied all expectations and been a huge success.”
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