Pope Benedict XVI made the first appearance by a head of the Catholic church on a flagship British radio show on Friday, though opponents criticized broadcasters for failing to use the opportunity to challenge his church’s record on sex abuse.
The pope contributed a recorded message to the regular “Thought For the Day” slot on BBC Radio 4’s main news program “Today,” a feature which has offered a platform to a range of religious figures since 1970.
In the message, recorded at the Vatican on Wednesday, the pope told British people he would pray for them during Christmas celebrations. “I pray for your families, for your children, for those who are sick, and for those who are going through any form of hardship at this time,” he said, in the brief broadcast.
Opponents criticized the BBC, saying it was offering the pope a platform without challenging his church’s record on sex abuse.
“The BBC is giving the Pope an unquestioned slot to continue whitewashing his church’s disgraceful record on covering up child abuse by its priests,” said Terry Sanderson, president of Britain’s National Secular Society.
“Why isn’t the pope being subjected to the same rigorous questioning that other heads of state would get?” Mr. Sanderson said.
The broadcast follows the pope’s four-day visit to Britain in September, when he addressed crowds in London, Scotland and central England and met with victims of the church’s sex abuse scandal.
During that visit, Pope Benedict beatified Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century Anglican convert to Catholicism, before tens of thousands of faithful at an open-air Mass in Birmingham, central England.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said the pope had “challenged the whole country to sit up and think,” during his visit.
Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham Bernard Longley said the success of the tour had prompted Benedict’s decision to take part in the radio programme.
“I think he was grateful for the way in which he was received here. It was a great opportunity to spread the Christmas message,” Archbishop Longley told BBC radio.
Archbishop Longley said that Pope Benedict’s broadcast had been an uncontroversial message about the Christmas story. “Especially on this day, Christmas Eve, he wouldn’t have wanted to do other than give the message of the gospel,” he said.
On Christmas Day, Queen Elizabeth II will make her annual televised Christmas speech for broadcast throughout the Commonwealth.