Thousands of cheering Catholic schoolchildren feted Pope Benedict XVI with songs and gifts on Friday on his second day in Britain, offering a boisterous welcome as the pontiff urged them to ignore the shallow temptations of today’s “celebrity culture.”
He also told their teachers to make sure to provide them with a trusting, safe environment, the second time in as many days that he has referred to the church sex abuse scandal. On Thursday, the pope acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had failed to act quickly or decisively enough to remove paedophile priests from ministry.
“Our responsibility towards those entrusted to us for their Christian formation demands nothing less,” Pope Benedict said. “Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate trust.”
Polls in Britain indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the way Pope Benedict has handled the sex abuse scandal, with Catholics nearly as critical of him as the rest of the population. His four—day visit to the U.K. has been clouded by the abuse scandal, as well as by opposition to many of his policies and widespread indifference to his presence in this deeply secular country.
Catholics are a minority in Britain at 10 percent, and up until the early 19th century they endured harsh persecution and discrimination and were even killed for their faith. King Henry VIII broke with Rome in the 16th century after he was denied a marriage annulment.
Pope Benedict was to meet with the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams later Friday amid new tensions between the Anglican and Catholic churches and celebrate an ecumenical service in Westminster Abbey.
His main event on Friday was an afternoon speech to British politicians, businessmen and cultural leaders in Westminster Hall where he was expected to press the need for faith to help shape public policy.
In the morning, the Pope told Catholic educators at a London university that their role was fundamental in forming future generations who had faith and were responsible citizens. But he also reminded them they must “ensure that our schools provide a safe environment for children and young people.”
Abuse scandals involving Catholic priests rocked the church in Britain more than a decade ago, sparking a 2001 report advising that all church officials, including volunteers, be subject to police checks and any allegations of abuse investigated swiftly. The Catholic Church in Britain has since prided itself on its response.
More recently, two former monks at Buckfast Abbey School were sentenced in 2007 for sexually abusing boys. And last year a monk at Ealing Abbey in London was sentenced for sexually abusing boys at an affiliated school.
Outside the London university hall, some 4,000 young students, outfitted in prim school uniforms and waving small white—and—yellow Holy See flags, serenaded the pontiff on Friday with gospel hymns and songs at the so—called “Big Assembly.”
The students, from England, Scotland and Wales, gave Benedict a tie—dyed stole and three books tracing the history of the Catholic Church in Great Britain. They presented the gifts to the pontiff as he sat on an enormous red throne on a stage decorated with children’s artwork.
The 83—year—old Benedict appeared relaxed and happy, gently greeting each child and kissing each on the head.
“For us, our school, it’s very important,” student Maresha Barnes, 13, said. “We have a picture of the pope in the lunch hall.”
Pope Benedict told the children they should work to become saints and not be swayed by the materialistic goals of wealth and fame prevalent in today’s “celebrity culture.”
“Having money makes it possible to be generous and to do good in the world, but on its own it is not enough to make us happy,” Pope Benedict told the children. “We need to have the courage to place our deepest hopes in God alone, not in money, in a career, in worldly success or in our relationships with others, but in God.”
He urged them to diligently study but always keep in mind broader morals.
“The world needs good scientists, but a scientific outlook becomes dangerously narrow if it ignores the religious or ethical dimensions of life, just as religion becomes narrow if it rejects the legitimate contribution of science to our understanding of the world,” he said.
A few blocks away, some 30 people opposed to the pope’s stand against homosexuality and the church’s ban on using condoms to fight AIDS protested, holding up inflated condoms and posters. “Condoms are not crimes,” read one. Another read- “Science flies you to the moon- religion flies you into buildings.”
Michael Clark, a 60—year—old cleaner, said he was protesting because he was gay and annoyed that the pope’s visit, which is expected to cost British taxpayers 12 million pounds ($18.7 million) for security, was being funded by the state.
“That means it’s being supported by taxpayers and people who may not have the same ideas,” Mr. Clark said. “Sexuality is not evil.”
Pope Benedict began his four—day U.K. state visit on Thursday, greeted by Queen Elizabeth II at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh, Scotland. In his speech to the queen, the German—born pope warned against “aggressive forms” of secularism and recalled how Britain had stood against “Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society.”