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Pope arrives in Britain, visit surrounded by controversy

During the country’s first papal visit 28 years ago, Britain was gripped by pope mania. Benedict XVI has just arrived, but was never able to expect the same sort of reception.

Pope Benedict XVI

This is the first visit by a pope to Britain in 28 years

Britain is preparing for its first papal visit in almost thirty years. Pope Benedict XVI is set to arrive in the UK on Thursday to meet some of the country's 4.2 million Catholics. Devout churchgoers will no doubt put on an enthusiastic welcome, but the Pope can also expect some protest demonstrations.

The National Secular Society is one of those groups planning to demonstrate against Benedict during his visit.

"We're not anti-Catholic; we're anti-Pope," Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society told Deutsche Welle. "And in fact we've had quite a lot of support from Catholics who are also appalled by some of the teachings of this present pope and the fact that rather than looking towards the future he seems to be taking the church backwards."

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A condom with the pope's image on the packaging and the sentence, I said no!

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Sanderson and his colleagues have joined an umbrella group of called "Protest the pope." Gay rights activist Peter Tatchell is also a member. He also claims that many British Catholics are finding fault with Pope Benedict.

"Many, many Catholics, probably the majority of Catholics in this country, disagree with the Pope's opposition to contraception, women priests, gay equality and the use of condoms to prevent the spread of HIV," he said. "On all those issues the vast majority of Catholics are out of step with the Pope."

Some British Jews say they resent the pope's decision to lift the excommunication of a British bishop who denied the holocaust.

Others opposed to the pope's visit are concerned about the cost, objecting to the fact that they, as taxpayers, will foot some of the bill, estimated at about 14 million euros ($18.2 million).

A man holds the photo of a priest abuse victim

The pope's response to the sex abuse scandal has not appeased activists

One key issue seems to unite all the protesters: the scandal about the sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy. Activist Peter Tatchell is calling on the Pope to open the Vatican files containing the names of some of the priests accused of abuse.

"The fact that he's insisted that these should be subject to papal secrecy is very disquieting," he said. "And I don't think he can be taken seriously as someone who opposes child sex abuse while he keeps those files hidden from the police authorities."

Most Brits don't care either way

On the pope's four-day trip he will tour Edinburgh, Glasgow, Birmingham and London. Many Catholics say they're excited to hear what he has to say. But indications are that the predominant response of the British people will not be interest and support. Opinion polls suggest that while a quarter of the British people welcome the visit and 10 percent oppose, two-thirds don't care one way or the other.

The Protest-the-Pope group is part of the 10 percent unhappy with the visit. Its members are planning a march and rally to voice their opposition, but have promised to keep things peaceful.

Author: Stephen Beard in London (hf)
Editor: Rob Turner

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