Image: Pope Benedict XVI chats with Catholic youth
Max Rossi  /  Reuters
Pope Benedict XVI chats with Catholic youth outside Westminster Cathedral in central London on Saturday. In a separate meeting, the pope apologized to five victims of sexual abuse, saying pedophile priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church.
msnbc.com news services
updated 9/19/2010 12:48:23 AM ET 2010-09-19T04:48:23

Pope Benedict XVI wrapped up an emotional day in London with a prayer vigil that drew 80,000 to Hyde Park.

The vigil capped a day in which the pope met and prayed with victims of priestly sexual abuse while thousands of people opposed to his visit marched in central London in the biggest protest of his five-year papacy. He also led a Mass at Westminster Cathedral.

At the vigil, he praised Cardinal John Henry Newman, a 19th century convert from Anglicanism whom the pope wants to hold up as a model for the faithful. On Sunday he was scheduled to lead a Beatification Mass at Cofton Park Birmingham for Newman.

The pope also plans to meet with the bishops of England, Scotland and Wales before he leaves for Rome.

Bill Kilgallon, chairman of the National Catholic Safeguarding Commission — a church group that organized the encounter — said five people met with the pontiff for about 30 or 40 minutes Saturday at the Vatican's ambassador's residence in Wimbledon.

The pope expressed "his deep sorrow and shame over what the victims and their families suffered," according to a Vatican statement.

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said the pontiff was "moved by what they had to say and expressed his deep sorrow and shame."

The Vatican statement was similar to ones it issued after Benedict met with abuse victims over the past two years while visiting the United States, Australia and Malta. But continued revelations of abuse — the latest in Belgium — have failed to placate critics demanding that the pope and other Vatican officials take personal responsibility and crack down on bishops who covered up abuses by their clerics.

As the Vatican issued the statement, up to 20,000 chanting demonstrators snaked though the streets of London to protest against his handling of the abuse crisis and his views on homosexuals and the ordination of women.

Story: 6 freed without charge; no pope terror plot

Moving towards the prime minister's residence at Downing Street, the protesters carried banners reading "Benedict's homophobia costs lives," and "Protect the Children - Demote the Pope". It was the largest demonstration so far on the pope's four-day visit to Britain, which ends on Sunday in Birmingham.

The pope celebrated a Mass on Saturday for some 2,000 people in Westminster Cathedral, the mother church for Roman Catholics in England and Wales and a symbol of the struggle of Catholics to assert their rights after the Reformation.

His words in a sermon there were the 83-year-old pontiff's latest attempt to come to grips with the scandal that has rocked the 1.1 billion-member Church, particularly in Europe and the United States.

"I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes ...," he said in his sermon in the towering cathedral built in the late 19th century.

'Shame and humiliation'
"I also acknowledge with you the shame and humiliation that all of us have suffered because of these sins," he said, adding that he hoped "this chastisement" would contribute to the healing of the victims and the purification of the Church.

He has apologized before for sexual abuse by priests and has acknowledged that the Church was slow to deal with the problem. But his comments on Saturday were among his most direct.

Still, victims said they were not satisfied, with one group named Bishops Accountability calling it "public relations not penitence."

"An apology is what a schoolboy does when he kicks a football through a window. What we need is for the pope to release all the files on predator priests," Sue Cox, a demonstrator who was abused as a child, said on television.

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The pope began his last day in London by holding separate meetings with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and acting opposition leader Harriet Harman.

It was during Harman's tenure as a minister in the previous Labor government that the pope condemned an equality bill going through parliament that would have forced churches to hire homosexuals or transsexuals. The provision was later defeated.

Clegg is a professed atheist but is married to a Spanish Roman Catholic who is raising their children in the Church.

Arrests in plot
On Saturday, six men arrested in London on suspicion of preparing an attack were freed after Scotland Yard determined there was no credible threat to the pope. Police searched eight homes and two businesses and reviewed their security operation.

British broadcaster Sky cited unnamed sources as saying the six were Algerian.

On Sunday he flies to Birmingham in central England, where he will beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, one of the most prominent English converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Thousands protest Pope's London visit

  1. Closed captioning of: Thousands protest Pope's London visit

    >>> protesters are swarming the streets of london to protest pope benedict 's vift to the uk. among the mob signs, the pope is wrong, and put a condom on. we have more from hyde park .

    >> reporter: here in london , hyde park , 65,000 people are gathering to watch a vigil hosted by pope benedict . most of the people behind me arriving are here to?k? welcome the pope, but on the other side of london , well, it's quite a different story. some 10,000 people are converging upon the streets of london to protest against the vatican's views on a whole range of issues from gay rights to the role of women in the catholic church and also the vatican's stance on contraception. the key issue that has 1? the united kingdom is certainly the issue of child abuse within the catholic church . now in a mass today in london 's westminster cathedral , pope benedict publicly apologized for what he calls unspeakable crimes committed by some catholic priests on children.

Photos: Pope Benedict XVI visits the United Kingdom

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  1. Pope Benedict XVI, right, is seen next to his personal secretary, father Gaenswein George, as they arrive at the Ciampino airport in Rome on Sunday, Sept. 19, after a four-day visit to England and Scotland. (Alessandro Bianchi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Pope Benedict XVI leaves Oscott College seminary in Birmingham, England, Sept. 19. (Pool via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Pope Benedict XVI addresses a mass to beatify Cardinal John Henry Newman, pictured in the background, in Birmingham, England, on Sept. 19. Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to Britain has been a "spiritual success", his spokesman said Sunday. (Adrian Dennis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. A girl takes holy communion as Pope Benedict XVI takes the beatification mass of Cardinal Newman at Cofton Park on Sept. 19, in Birmingham, England. On the last day of Pope Benedict XVI's state visit, the Pontiff is beatifying Cardinal Newman in front of over 60,000 faithful. His Holiness also met The Queen as well as political and religious representatives during the four day visit. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Pilgrims await the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI in Cofton Park, Birmingham, England, Sept. 19. (Kirsty Wigglesworth / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. People crowd Hyde Park during a prayer vigil led by Pope Benedict XVI in London, Sept. 18. (Gregorio Borgia / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Pope Benedict XVI chats with Catholic youth outside Westminster Cathedral in central London on Sept. 18. Pope Benedict apologised to victims of sexual abuse on Saturday, saying paedophile priests had brought "shame and humiliation" on him and the entire Roman Catholic Church. (Max Rossi / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for a celebration of Catholic education at St Mary's University College, Twickenham, in SW LondonFriday. The pope is on a four day visit to the United Kingdom. (Claudio Onorati / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for a service of prayer at St Mary's University College Chapel during day two of his four day state visit at Twickenham on Friday in London, England. (Wpa Pool / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Pope Benedict XVI meets Britain's Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, during a meeting of religious leaders at St Mary's University College, in Twickenham, south-west London on Friday. (Toby Melville / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Police patrol outside the Houses of Parliament ahead of the visit by Pope Benedict XVI, where he will give an address to the Civil Society, Westminster Hall in the Palace of Westminster on Friday in London. (Matt Cardy / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Pilgrims depart from buses parked near Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, prior to the papal mass to be celebrated there Thursday afternoon. (Chris Clark / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Supporters gather ahead of the arrival of Benedict for the papal mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday. (Jeff J Mitchell / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. Queen Elizabeth II's husband, Prince Philip, greets Pope Benedict XVI Thursday as he arrives in Scotland to begin a four-day trip. The trip is the first to the U.K. by a Pontiff since John Paul II in 1982, and the first to be designated a state visit as Queen invited him, rather than the church. (Andrew Milligan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. The pope inspects a guard of honour at Edinburgh Airport on Thursday. (Pool / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Crowds watch as the Popemobile makes its way along Edinburgh's Princes Street on Thursday. (Derek Blair / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Pilgrims display their souvenir scarves in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, on Thursday ahead of a celebration of mass slated for later in the day. (Leon Neal / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Pope Benedict XVI, right on stage, Britain's Prince Philip, left, and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II, center, inspect an honor guard of members of the Royal Company of Archers and members of the Royal Regiment of Scotland Band as the Pope arrives at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, in Edinburgh on Thursday. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. The pope's controversial yet historic state trip to the United Kingdom has been overshadowed by the sex abuse scandals which have shaken confidence in the Roman Catholic Church. (Lefteris Pitarakis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip walk with the pope to the Morning Drawing Room in the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official residence in Scotland on Thursday. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Ulster Protestant leader Rev. Ian Paisley, center, is seen at a protest at Magdalen Chapel in Edinburgh as the pope arrives at the city. (Jon Super / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A car drives past an billboard ahead of the pope's visit. (Paul Ellis / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. A double-decker bus on London's Oxford St. carries a poster urging the pope to ordain women as priests. (Horacio Villalobos / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Pope Benedict XVI arrives for mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Pope Benedict XVI's kisses a baby as he arrives for mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow, Scotland, Thursday. (Nigel Roddis / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. Pope Benedict XVI conducts Mass at Bellahouston Park on Thursday, Sept. 16 in Glasgow, Scotland. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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