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Pope likely to meet church sex abuse victims during visit to UK

The Tory peer organising the Pope’s visit to Britain has given the strongest possible hint that the pontiff will meet victims of church sex abuse during his stay.

Lord Patten also suggested that such an attempt to atone for the crimes of British clergy would take place behind closed doors for “obvious reasons”.

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In an exclusive interview with The Herald, he also said that he saw no need to change the law that bars a Catholic from becoming monarch.

The former MP and Governor of Hong Kong was put in charge of the visit by the new Coalition Government after it came to power in May.

This month’s visit by Pope Benedict XVI will include an audience with the Queen at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh and an open-air Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.

However, Lord Patten admitted that much of the interest in the trip so far had focused on “recent headlines which have not been to the credit of the Catholic Church”.

Some groups have even said they will attempt to arrest the Pope over his alleged cover-up of abuse.

Asked if the Pope intended to meet with victims of church sex abuse while in Britain, Lord Patten said: “Let’s look at what has happened on previous visits.

“He has made, I think, 16 visits overseas and, though this has not happened on each occasion, whenever he has seen victims of child abuse it has not been announced in advance and it has not been for very, very obvious reasons something which has been done in public.

“So, I think that is the context in which that question has to be answered.”

His comments follow those of the Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, who has previously said that “careful consideration” was being given to organising a meeting during the visit.

In June, the Pope begged for forgiveness from God and the countless victims of abuse for a series of scandals that engulfed the Church.

Two months earlier he met eight abuse victims on a visit to Malta, and was reportedly reduced to tears during their meeting.

Victims groups such as Macsas (Minister and Clergy Sex Abuse Survivors) have called on the Pope not just to apologise, but to “acknowledge and take responsibility” for the harm caused.

The group is holding a conference in London just days before the Pope’s visit, in which victims will be encouraged to write messages to the Pontiff.

Peter Tatchell, the gay rights activist who is part of a campaign protesting against the Pope’s visit, said that the Pontiff had to do more than just talk to victims.

He said: “Meeting the victims does not change the fact that the Pope has refused to give the police the Vatican’s files on child sex abuse. He is also refusing to co-operate with police forces around the world.

“These moral failings are not going to be assuaged by a media-crafted meeting with a few abuse victims.”

Lord Patten also said that he saw no reason to change the Act of Settlement, the 300-year-old law that bars Catholics from ascending the throne.

He said: “I have been in public life as a Catholic for over 40 years and I don’t think that the Act of Settlement has ever caused me more than four nanoseconds of thought and it hasn’t ever made me feel there was discrimination against me as a Catholic in public life.

“I think that there are a lot more important things that should be on the Government’s agenda.”

He added: “Different people have different views but I speak as the great-grandson of potato famine Irish immigrants and, for me, this is not a big issue.

“It may be for other people, in which case they are entitled to pursue it politically, but it is not a big issue for me.

“I mean, there are all sorts of issues which other people may feel more strongly about in relation to the succession and the monarchy – women may feel more strongly about the gender issue.”

Meanwhile, it was confirmed yesterday that the Pope had snubbed an invitation to appear on Radio 4’s Thought For The Day slot. The BBC said that despite an approach earlier this year, there were not plans for the Pope to appear.

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