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Presbyterian Moderator will not shake Pope's hand

Presbyterian Moderator Dr Norman Hamilton will not meet the Pope during his UK visit because of troubling issues with the Church, it was revealed today.

Dr Hamilton is representing the Church at a service in Westminster Abbey on Friday attended by Pope Benedict XVI, the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and members of other ecumenical traditions.

But he said he had concern about recent controversies surrounding the Catholic Church.

"I have absolutely no difficulty in meeting the Pope, what I have backed away from is the symbolism of greeting him when there are such troubling issues with the Church," he told the BBC.

The Catholic Church in Ireland has faced fierce criticism for clerical child abuse over several decades at religious institutions.

Mr Hamilton is minister at Ballysillan church in north Belfast and is known for his cross-community work. He has called for extra effort to create a shared future and more understanding between Catholics and Protestants.

His area has been ravaged by sectarian murders and pitched battles over loyal order parades but there have been efforts to bring the two communities together spearheaded by local clerics.

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Mr Hamilton has come under fire for attending Friday's service from members of his own Church and the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church, which is organising Scottish protests.

The Pope's four-day stay will see him attend events in Scotland and England.

The largest organised event is an open-air Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow on the opening day of the Pope's trip to the UK.

The capacity has been reduced to 80,000 after a slow take-up of tickets.

Dioceses in England and Wales have also reported thousands of unfilled places for a London vigil, and the service to beatify Cardinal Newman in Birmingham.

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