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The British media has been particularly hostile to the pope’s visit, noting its $18.7 million security cost to British taxpayers at a time of austerity measures and job losses. Protests are planned and “Pope Nope” T-shirts have been spotted around London.

There also remains strong opposition in the U.K. to Benedict’s hard line against homosexuality, abortion and using condoms to prevent the spread of AIDS.

Yet a crowd of about 125,000 in Edinburgh welcomed him warmly, with the cheers on Princes Street heard from a mile away and well-wishers toting the Holy See’s yellow and white flag.

“I’ve brought my wee girl Laura to see the pope,” said James Hegarty, a 42-year-old unemployed Edinburgh resident. “She’s only 4, but it’s a once in a lifetime chance to see him.”

A mile away, about 80 people protested the visit led by a Northern Ireland Protestant leader, the Rev. Ian Paisley. It was held at the Magdalen Chapel where John Knox, the leader of the Scottish Reformation, preached.

“This visit should never had happened. We stand here against these abusers. This is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” Mr. Paisley said.

Benedict acknowledged the opposition in his airborne comments to reporters, saying Britain had a “great history of anti-Catholicism. But it is also a country with a great history of tolerance.”

Asked about polls that suggest many Catholics had lost trust in the church as a result of the sex abuse scandals, Benedict said he was shocked and saddened about the scope of the abuse, in part because priests take vows to be Christ’s voice upon ordination.

“It’s difficult to understand how a man who has said this could then fall into this perversion. It’s a great sadness,” Benedict said in Italian. “It’s also sad that the authority of the church wasn’t sufficiently vigilant, and not sufficiently quick or decisive to take necessary measures” to stop it.

He said victims were the church’s top priority as it tries to help them heal spiritually and psychologically.

“How can we repair, what can we do to help these people overcome this trauma, find their lives again and find again the trust in the message of Christ?” Benedict said.

He insisted that abusive priests must never again be allowed access to young children, saying they suffer from an illness that “goodwill” cannot cure. In addition, he said, candidates for the priesthood must be better screened.

The Vatican has been reeling for months as thousands of victims around the globe have spoken out about priests who molested children, bishops who covered up for them and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the problem for decades.

Previously, Benedict has admitted that the scandal was borne of “sins within the church” but he had never acknowledged in such detail to the church’s failures to act. Advocates for victims have long insisted he take more personal responsibility for the scandal, given that he was in charge of the Vatican office that handled sex abuse cases and was archbishop of Munich when a pedophile priest was assigned pastoral work while undergoing therapy for having abused young boys.

Benedict didn’t take individual personal responsibility Thursday, saying only that the “authority of the church” had failed.

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