The Pope arrives in Britain today, for a state visit shrouded in controversy and apparent apathy. Organisers admit thousands of tickets to see the pontiff remain unsold, a far cry from the enthusiastic welcome afforded John Paul II in 1982.
It comes with the Catholic church struggling to cope with a long-running child abuse scandal, and Benedict can expect vociferous protests when he celebrates mass in Glasgow, Birmingham and London.
“We would ask the Pope, first of all, to release the names of all the predator priests,” said abuse victim Barbara Blaine. “We would also like him to open up all the files that he has about sexual abuse by priests and turn them over to the police agencies of every country where the priests come from.”
Further adding to the controversy, one of the Pope’s closest advisers likened Britain to a Third World country in its attitude to organised religion. Cardinal Walter Kaspar withdrew from the visit claiming illness.
Benedict’s hard-line views on abortion, contraception and AIDS have also caused resentment, as is the cost of the tour, which is being borne by the British taxpayer.