The Roman Catholic Archbishop of Southwark, Peter Smith, has promised to "pass on" calls by the Protest the Pope campaign for Benedict XVI to "open the Vatican's secret sex abuse files and hand them over the relevant police authorities worldwide”.
The Archbishop's pledge came at a meeting with organisers of the Protest the Pope campaign, held yesterday (8 September) with the approval of the Roman Catholic Bishops of England and Wales.
The human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said he was “pleased and reassured” that Smith had agreed to forward the request.
Tatchell was one of the delegation who met the Archbishop, along with Andrew Copson of the British Humanist Association, Terry Sanderson of the National Secular Society and Marco Tranchino.
Tatchell argued that, “The Pope's condemnation of sex abuse by clergy will never be taken seriously until he agrees to pass to the police in countries around the world the evidence the Vatican has compiled on child molesting priests, bishops and cardinals”.
The meeting comes ahead of the Pope's state visit to Britain next week. Benedict XVI will speak at Glasgow, Birmingham and London from 16 – 19 September.
"During his visit to Britain, Benedict should apologise for his own personal shortcomings, instead of merely apologising for the behaviour of other clergy,” insisted Tatchell.
The Pope has also faced criticism from within the Catholic Church in the run-up to his arrival. Catholic Voices for Reform (CV4R) this week published a list of questions to be given to the Pope. They cover a range of issues, including sexual ethics and child abuse.
CV4R, an umbrella organisation for a number of pro-reform Catholic groups in the UK, suggested that, “The abuse crisis has highlighted to the world that the institutional Church is too monarchical, lacks transparency and accountability”.
They asked, “How can the Church draw on the skills and abilities of the laity in moving towards a healthy, accountable and professional Church government at central and local level?”
Neither CV4R nor any other religious organisation has joined the Protest the Pope campaign, a coalition which currently includes twenty-one groups.
A spokesperson for the campaign, Paul Blanchard, told The Friend, an independent Quaker magazine, that membership of the coalition is open to “anyone who wants to protest [against] the pope’s visit”. Asked why no religious groups had joined, he said “that’s a matter for them and not for us”. He insisted that the coalition is “not anti-Catholic”.
It has been suggested that the Catholic authorities fear unruly or even violent demonstrations during the papal visit. But Tatchell said that the Archbishop had “accepted our assurances” that they “plan no disruptions” and are “committed to peaceful, lawful protests”.