Pope admits failure

17 September 2010 - 01:16 By Sapa-AFP

As he began his historic state visit to Britain yesterday, Pope Benedict said the Catholic Church dropped its guard on paedophilia and failed to deal with the issue quickly enough.

On landing at Edinburgh airport, the 83-year-old pontiff was driven to meet Queen Elizabeth at the start of the first state visit by a pope to Britain since King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in Rome in 1534 and founded the Church of England.

Despite the royal welcome at Holyrood Palace, the trip has been clouded by the abuse scandal and a top Vatican official likening Britain to a "Third World country".

During the flight to Edinburgh, the pope told journalists that the Catholic Church "has not been vigilant enough" against priests abusing children.

Revelations of child abuse that shook the church "were a shock to me", he said.

The pope admitted that the church authorities "did not act quickly or firmly enough to take the necessary action" to deal with the problem.

He said he hoped abusers would get "appropriate punishment".

"This is a time of penitence, of unity and of sincerity."

The queen welcomed the pope at Holyrood Palace, her official residence in Scotland. During his speech at Holyrood, the pope echoed comments from one of his aides about the dangers of "aggressive secularism".

"Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society," he said.

"In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.

"Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms."