Sep 17, 2010 12:18 PM
LONDON (AP) - British police arrested five London street
cleaners over an alleged threat to Pope Benedict XVI on Friday, the
second day of a papal trip to Britain that has brought both a warm
welcome from Catholics and renewed anger over the clerical sex
The Vatican said the pope was calm despite the pre-dawn arrests
and planned no changes to his schedule.
Acting on a tip, police detained the men, aged 26 to 50, under
the Terrorism Act at a cleaning depot in central London after
receiving information about a possible threat. The men were being
questioned at a London police station and have not been charged.
Police said an initial search of that business and other properties
did not uncover any hazardous items.
The pope's visit has divided opinion in officially Protestant,
highly secular Britain. The trip has been overshadowed by disgust
over the Catholic Church's clerical abuse scandal and opposition
from secularists and those opposed to the pope's stances against
homosexuality and using condoms to fight AIDS.
The detained suspects worked for a contractor on behalf of
Westminster Council, the authority responsible for much of central
London. The pope will still address British politicians,
businessmen and cultural leaders in Westminster Hall, part of the
Houses of Parliament, later Friday.
The depot were the men were arrested is responsible for cleaning
another part of London that the pope is not due to visit, police
Police confirmed that some of the suspects were thought to be
from outside Britain but declined to comment on media reports they
were of Algerian origin.
Veolia Environmental Services, the cleaners' company, had no
immediate comment on the arrests.
At the scene of the arrests in Chiltern Street, close to
London's Madame Tussauds' tourist attraction, police cordoned off
part of the road, removing items from the Veolia depot and
examining nearby garbage cans.
The pope's security on this trip has been visibly higher than on
previous foreign trips, and Vatican officials have acknowledged
that Britain represents a higher security threat than the other
European countries Benedict has visited this year, including
Portugal, Malta and Cyprus.
News of the arrests came as the pope was meeting representatives
of other religions, including Muslims and Jews, and stressing the
need for mutual respect, tolerance and freedom. The Vatican said
the pope was informed of the arrests and was pleased he could stick
to his schedule.
"We have complete trust in the police," Vatican spokesman Rev.
Federico Lombardi told reporters. "The police are taking the
necessary measures. The situation is not particularly dangerous."
"The pope is happy about this trip and is calm."
Hours after the arrests, Benedict met with the Archbishop of
Canterbury Rowan Williams, the spiritual leader of the worldwide
Anglican Communion, at his London residence. The meeting came amid
new tensions following Benedict's unprecedented decision last year
to make it easier for Anglicans opposed to the ordination of women
bishops to convert to Catholicism.
Benedict and Williams greeted each other warmly. Benedict said
flat-out he had no intention of speaking of difficulties "that are
well known to everyone here." Rather, he stressed the need for
Christians to work together and bring a greater sense of virtue
into public discourse.
Williams, who has not hidden his dismay over the Vatican's
invitation to conservative Angligans, also stressed the ongoing
effort to bring the two churches back together, saying each side
was "made less by the fact of our dividedness." He praised
Benedict for his constant call to bring faith into public policy -
a theme Benedict was to explore further Friday in his major address
at Westminster Hall.
Benedict travels with his own security detail, headed by chief
papal bodyguard Domenico Giani. Benedict's white, bulletproof
Popemobile is flanked by eight to 10 dark-suited bodyguards who jog
alongside, scanning crowds for potential threats.
There have been no major known attempts against Benedict during
his five-year papacy, although he was knocked down at Christmas Eve
Mass in 2009 by a mentally unstable woman who jumped the security
barricade inside St. Peter's Basilica. In 2007, a man jumped the
barricade in St. Peter's Square and grabbed the pope's vehicle
before being pushed to the ground by guards.
Benedict's predecessor Pope John Paul II was wounded in an
assassination attempt in 1981 in St. Peter's Square. Police in the
Philippines also disrupted an alleged plot to assassinate John Paul
in Manila in 1995.
Benedict was nearly 30 minutes late for his first event Friday
morning; the Vatican attributed the delay at the time to logistical
problems. It wasn't known if the arrests contributed to the delay.
The pope was then given a boisterous welcome by thousands of
cheering Catholic schoolchildren at St. Mary's University College
in London, where he urged young people to ignore the shallow
temptations of today's "celebrity culture."
Benedict also told their teachers to make sure to provide the
children with a trusting, safe environment - the second time in as
many days that he has referred to the church sex abuse scandal. On
Thursday, the pope acknowledged that the Roman Catholic Church had
failed to act quickly or decisively enough to remove pedophile
priests from ministry.
"Our responsibility toward those entrusted to us for their
Christian formation demands nothing less," Benedict said.
"Indeed, the life of faith can only be effectively nurtured when
the prevailing atmosphere is one of respectful and affectionate
Polls in Britain indicate widespread dissatisfaction with the
way Benedict has handled the sex abuse scandal, with Catholics
nearly as critical of him as the rest of the population.
Outside the London university hall, some 4,000 young students,
outfitted in prim school uniforms and waving small white-and-yellow
Holy See flags, serenaded the pontiff Friday with gospel hymns and
The students, from England, Scotland and Wales, gave Benedict a
tie-dyed stole and three books tracing the history of the Catholic
Church in Great Britain. The 83-year-old Benedict appeared relaxed
and happy, gently greeting children and kissing them on the head.
In a surprise move, Becky Gorrod, 39, who had been standing
outside the gates of St. Mary's holding her 8-month-old daughter
Alice, was ushered in to meet the pontiff as the crowd cheered.
"My husband's never going to believe me," Gorrod told
journalists. "They opened the car door, and the pope got out. Then
the (pacifier) fell out of Alice's mouth, and the pope bent down
and picked it up! The pope! How mad is that?"
She said the pope then kissed Alice on the forehead.
A few blocks away, about 30 people protested, holding up
inflated condoms and posters. "Condoms are not crimes," read one.
Another read: "Science flies you to the moon: religion flies you
Michael Clark, 60, said he was protesting because he was gay and
annoyed that the pope's visit was expected to cost British
taxpayers 12 million pounds ($18.7 million) for security.
"That means it's being supported by taxpayers and people who
may not have the same ideas," Clark said. "Sexuality is not
Benedict began his four-day U.K. state visit on Thursday,
greeted by Queen Elizabeth II at Holyroodhouse Palace in Edinburgh,
Scotland. He wraps it up Sunday in Birmingham when he beatifies the
19th century Anglican convert Cardinal John Henry Newman.
Catholics are a minority in Britain at 10 percent, and up until
the early 19th century they endured harsh persecution and
discrimination and were even killed for their faith. King Henry
VIII broke with Rome in the 16th century after he was denied a