The controversy over the child abuse scandal, involving Catholic priests, continued to dog Pope Benedict XVI's visit even as he offered what Vatican observers described as the “most explicit'' apology yet saying it had brought “shame and humiliation'' to the Church.
Condemning the abuses as “unspeakable crimes'' and “sins'', the Pope expressed his sorrow at the “immense suffering'' of the vulnerable children exploited by priests who were supposed to care for them.
“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 during a mass at Westminster Cathedral attended among others by the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a recent convert to Catholicism, and his wife Cherie.
While commentators were still discussing the significance of the Pontiff's remarks which, they said, came closest to acknowledging the Church's responsibility, several thousand people including victims of child abuse and their families joined a protest march in central London accusing the Vatican of “inaction''.
“We don't need a Pope who is sad about crimes. We need a Pope who will prevent crimes. And his words prevent nothing,” said a spokesman of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests while Peter Saunders of the National Association for People Abused in Childhood, who was himself abused as a child, said he was not convinced by the Pope's apology.
Human rights activist Peter Tatchell told the BBC that if he had the chance to speak to the Pope, he would ask him to hand over any secret Vatican sex abuse files and cooperate with the police.
“The Pope keeps apologising but he only apologises for the failings of others,'' he said as protesters waved placards and raised slogans against the Pope's visit and the Vatican's policies on gay rights, abortion and ordination of women priests.
On the penultimate day of his four-day visit, the Pope met Prime Minister David Cameron and attended a prayer vigil at Hyde Park. He was also expected to meet a group of victims of child abuse and their families.
Meanwhile, one more person was arrested in connection with an alleged terrorist threat to him. On Friday, five street cleaners of north African descent were arrested under terror laws and were still being questioned.