Protestors gather as Pope expresses ‘sorrow’ for child abuse

By Peter Wozniak

A major demonstration protesting the Papal visit took place in central London today, as the Pope expressed “sorrow” over child abuse in the Church.

Protestor’s gathered from 13:30 BST at Hyde Park Corner, before proceeding to march to Downing Street for a rally at 15:30 BST to protest the government’s decision to allow the head of the Catholic Church a state visit.

The Pope himself spent the day in London, attending Mass in Westminster Cathedral and visiting a residential home in Vauxhall, ending with a vigil held in Hyde Park.

He made the strongest statement yet over the child abuse scandal during the Westminster Cathedral visit.

“Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives,” he said.

The apology did little to stem the anger towards the Pope from demonstrators, most of whom are also galvinised by his views on issues such as homosexuality and condoms, as well as the fact the visit he is visiting as a head of state rather than a religious leader.

Demonstrators numbered in the tens of thousands, according to organisers.

Leading human rights advocate Peter Tatchell demanded David Cameron and Nick Clegg disassociate the government from the Pope’s political views.

“There are loads of Catholics on this march who disagree with the Pope on key moral issues,” he told politics.co.uk.

“We don’t have the resources of the Catholic Church but I think our march is much more representative of public opinion in this country. We’ve got no office, no funding, but we got this kind of turnout. It’s pretty impressive.”

Protestor Heather Bird told politics.co.uk she was inspired to attend because of faith schools.

“The government ‘does God’ and they want more faith schools,” she said.

“It’s discriminating against atheists who want their kids to go to a good school. As a taxpayer I find that insulting.”

Oliver Waite, of the Queer Youth Network, said: “We don’t feel we should have to pay our own money for this man to come here.

“His views are so anti-gay, anti-women and not even shared by British Catholics.”

Polling suggests that the majority of British Catholics expect the visit to improve the image of the Catholic Church in Britain, despite widespread disagreement with some of the Pope’s views.

The government is providing much of the security for the tour. Six men suspected of an alleged plot to attack the Pope were arrested yesterday.

The ‘protest the Pope’ campaign has arranged protests for the duration of Pope Benedict’s four-day tour, but today’s march in central London is expected to be by far the largest.