Pope Benedict XVI met on Saturday with five people who were molested by priests as children and apologised to them, even as abuse survivors and thousands of people opposed to his visit marched in central London in the biggest protest of his five-year papacy.
Benedict met for about 30-40 minutes with the victims at the Vatican's apostolic nunciature in Wimbledon, according to the Vatican and Bill Kilgallon, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission, a church group that organised the encounter.
Benedict "expressed his deep sorrow and shame over what victims and their families had suffered," according to a Vatican statement.
"He prayed with them and assured them that the Catholic Church is continuing to implement effective measures designed to safeguard young people, and that it is doing all in its power to investigate allegations, to collaborate with civil authorities and to bring to justice clergy and religious (brothers) accused of these egregious crimes," it said.
The statement was similar to ones issued by the Vatican when Benedict has met previously with victims on foreign trips to the United States, Australia and Malta. This time, Benedict also met with a group of professionals and volunteers who work to safeguard children and young people in church environments.
Kilgallon said he didn't know if any of the victims would choose to speak to the media.
The sex abuse scandal has clouded Benedict's state visit to this deeply secular nation with a centuries-old history of anti-Catholic sentiment.
Polls have indicated widespread dissatisfaction in Britain with the way Benedict has handled the crisis, with Catholics nearly as critical of him as the rest of the population.
Anger over the scandal runs high in Britain in part because of the enormous scale of the abuse in neighboring Ireland, where government reports have detailed systematic abuse of children at church-run schools and cover-up by church authorities.
As the pope met with the victims, abuse survivors and demonstrators opposed to the pope's stance against homosexuality, abortion and using condoms to fight AIDS marched from Hyde Park to Downing Street to protest the pope's four-day state visit.
Organisers said they expected 10,000 people, and thousands were seen marching through London. Police declined to give a crowd estimate. Even a crowd of a few thousand would make it the largest protest against Benedict since his election in 2005.