Pope Benedict's visit to UK a "mistake" - Paisley

LONDON Fri Jul 2, 2010 1:09am BST

Former Democratic Unionist Party leader Dr Ian Paisley arrives at his constituency offices in Ballymena where he announced his retirement as MP for north Antrim, Belfast March 8, 2010. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Former Democratic Unionist Party leader Dr Ian Paisley arrives at his constituency offices in Ballymena where he announced his retirement as MP for north Antrim, Belfast March 8, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Cathal McNaughton

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LONDON (Reuters) - Protestant preacher Ian Paisley said on Friday it was a mistake to have invited Pope Benedict to Britain and criticised the Catholic Church's response to the child sex abuse scandal.

The preacher, who stepped down from the post of Northern Ireland first minister in 2008, said the pope should not have been invited for the four-day visit in September during which he will meet the queen at her official residence in Scotland.

It will be the first official papal visit to the country.

"I think it is a mistake," Paisley said, when asked what he thought of the visit. "I think he should not be invited to the country."

He told the BBC World Service that authorities had kept the trip to Scotland and England "secret."

"You go and ask a question of any minister and he says he doesn't want to have anything to do with it," he added. "The Queen is only meeting them on Scottish soil, not on English soil."

The queen is the supreme governor of the Church of England, the mother church of the Anglican Communion. Relations between the CoE and Vatican have been tense after Pope Benedict made an offer to disaffected Anglicans to convert.

Paisley also criticised the Catholic Church's handling of the child abuse scandal in Ireland, accusing it of having failed to "take a strong stand."

"I believe that any man that destroys a child's life, as we have seen scores of young people in this day and generation -- and then the church having to wait until it is uncovered -- is an absolute disgrace."

In March, the pope apologised to victims of abuse by Irish clergy following reports last year which said priests had abused children for decades in Catholic-run institutions, and that Church authorities had covered up cases in Dublin until the mid-1990s.

Hundreds of cases of sexual and physical abuse of youths by priests in recent decades have also come to light in Europe and the United States.

Various campaigners plan demonstrations during the pope's visit, including author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins who has said he will try to have the pope arrested to face questions over the scandal.

Pro-gay activists are planning protests against his comments on the government's Equality Bill, while secularists complain at the 8 million pound bill being picked up by the taxpayer.

(Writing by Avril Ormsby; Editing by Peter Griffiths)

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