LONDON — Pope Benedict XVI's historic visit was hailed a success by the Vatican and commentators Monday after he condemned the crimes of paedophile priests and sought to ease tensions between Catholics and Anglicans.
The first ever state visit to Britain by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the first papal trip to predominantly Anglican Britain since John Paul II in 1982 took place under intense scrutiny.
But after four days which took the pope to Scotland and England before climaxing in a beatification mass for 19th century cardinal John Henry Newman, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi declared the "wonderful" visit a "spiritual success".
"Hundreds of thousands of people have met the pope personally in the street and at the major events and also, through television and the Internet, many others have seen him and heard what he has to say," Lombardi said.
"I think also that the message that he has about the positive contribution of the Catholic Church and of Christian faith to society has been received very well." During the visit, Benedict returned again and again to the damaging scandal of paedophile priests which has shaken the Catholic Church, condemning their "unspeakable crimes" and meeting a group of victims. But perhaps the lasting image of the trip may be the blessing and kissing of babies at masses he celebrated, which helped to soften his image.
"Rottweiler? No, he's a holy grandad," headlined the Sunday Times newspaper over a double-page photospread of Saturday's prayer vigil in Hyde Park. A coalition of protesters -- at least 10,000 according to the organisers of the "Protest the Pope" march but less than half that number according to police -- made their opposition known in London on Sunday. But their numbers were dwarfed by the 80,000 people who attended the prayer vigil. The visit, which ended Sunday, took the 83-year-old pope first to Edinburgh where he was welcomed by Queen Elizabeth II, before an open-air mass in Glasgow and then two packed days of engagements London. The climax of the visit came with the beatification of a famed Anglican convert to Catholicism, 19th century cardinal John Henry Newman, before 55,000 pilgrims in the city of Birmingham.
The pope also warned of the risks of "aggressive secularity" in an increasingly multi-cultural Britain.
Prime Minister David Cameron said the pope had made people in Britain take a fresh look at faith.
"You have really challenged the whole country to sit up and think, and that can only be a good thing," Cameron said at Birmingham Airport before Benedict's departure for Rome.
The Sunday Telegraph said in an editorial the pope had shown "great courage" by "throwing down the gauntlet to our overly secularised society and insisting... that religion still has a vital role to play within our culture."
Catherine Pepinster, editor of The Tablet newspaper, a British Catholic weekly, said the pope had managed to shed his "Vatican Rottweiler" image and Britons had warmed to him. "What the visit accomplished above all was to unify Catholics and humanise a pope who has so often been perceived as cold, aloof and authoritarian," she wrote.
Andrea Tornielli, a Vatican journalist for the Italian daily Il Giornale, said the trip was marked by symbolic moments that had made it into a success. A pope had been welcomed for the first time to Lambeth Palace, the London residence of the head of the world's Anglicans, Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, said the journalist, Benedict had also addressed an audience in the Houses of Parliament that included former prime ministers Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair, and attended a service at Westminster Abbey.
These were places that "represent the heart of Anglican London," said Tornielli.