The Pope could meet people who were abused by Roman Catholic priests when he visits Britain later this month, it was suggested today.
Cardinal Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster, pointed out that Pope Benedict had met victims of clerical sex abuse during recent visits to other countries.
But he stressed this was always done confidentially and in private and that was the “right and proper” way to approach such a sensitive issue.
It has been reported that Vatican officials are concerned the Pope's visit to England and Scotland could be overshadowed by demonstrations.
Cardinal Nichols appeared to play down such suggestions, saying he would not put the “real tragedy” of child abuse “in the category of something that will overshadow everything else about this visit”.
And responding to a poll that more than three quarters of Britons think the taxpayer should not contribute to the cost of the four-day visit, the cardinal said it would be a “very sad day” when a country said it could not afford it.
He added: “It would be a real gesture of isolationism. We should remember that the Pope comes as the spiritual leader of one in five of all people on this planet so this is not a minor figure as it were.”
He also stressed the “important agenda” of the visit in developing relationships between the Government.
Asked on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show if the Pope would meet with abuse victims during his state visit, the cardinal said: “The pattern of his last five or six visits has been that he has met victims of abuse.
“But the rules are very clear, that is done without any pre-announcement, it is done in private and it is done confidentially, which is quite right and proper, so I think we have to wait and see.
“But I don't think I would quite put the problem and the challenge and the real tragedy of child abuse, especially for the victims, in the category of something that will overshadow everything else about this visit.
“This is an issue we have to take seriously and we try, but it is not the whole story.”