Pope Benedict 'courageously acknowledged failures of the past' says former Archbishop of Canterbury

Benedict visited the UK in 2010 when he met the Queen and made a historic address at Westminster Hall

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The former Archbishop of Canterbury recalled the “moving and powerful occasion” of Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to the UK, in an exclusive interview with GB News.

The Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams spoke with GB News following the death of Pope Benedict, 95, on Saturday, who was head of the Catholic Church from 2005 to 2013, and Pope Emeritus from his retirement in 2013 until the end of his life.

Benedict made a historic state visit to the UK in 2010.
Benedict made a historic state visit to the UK in 2010.

Benedict made a historic state visit to the UK in 2010. During this visit he and Dr Williams, then Archbishop of Canterbury, led an evensong service at Westminster Abbey and prayed together before St Edward the Confessor’s tomb.

Dr Williams said: “That was a particularly moving and powerful occasion. It was of course the first time a Pope had officially visited the United Kingdom. Certainly the first time that a Pope and Archbishop had stood together at that shrine and for me it was a moment of extraordinary depth to be alongside this very great very substantial man and be able to pray together and, if you like, to discover our unity at the deepest level.

“The fact that we were able to give a blessing side by side, on the altar of Westminster Abbey, was a great gift, a great experience which I shan’t ever forget.”

There was widespread anti-papal sentiment at the time of the visit, due to the Catholic sexual abuse scandal. But Dr Williams recalls that it was a success nonetheless.

The Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams joined GB News' Nana Akua
The Most Reverend Dr Rowan Williams joined GB News' Nana Akua

“During the whole of that visit, he communicated to his audiences- not always very sympathetic audiences in the UK- a sense of pastoral sensitivity, a sense of humanity which people won’t forget in a hurry,” he said.

Presiding over Mass at Westminster Cathedral, Benedict spoke against the “unspeakable crimes” of sexual abuse in the church. He was also the first Pope to meet with the victims of abuse, and did so in the UK.

Dr Williams pointed out two aspects of Benedict’s legacy: “He really did unblock the process of confronting the abuse scandals within the Catholic Church. Obviously there was more that could have been done at all sorts of points, but he recognised the need for some central, coherent approach to this.

“He courageously acknowledged the failures of the past, he opened the way for people to be heard in a new depth of seriousness.”

And secondly: “His skill and his genius as a teacher. The way in which he communicated his understanding of the Christian and Catholic faith with depth and clarity in a way which I think will last for many generations.”

Dr Williams also recalled the warm relations between himself and Benedict: “When we both held office the relations personal relations were very, very cordial. I would visit him once a year, we would have a one-to-one conversation and it was never a difficult or strained thing.

“We recognised I think in each other something of the same kind of commitment, some of the same ideals for the church and we were able to start a new round of official dialogue between the Anglican Communion worldwide and the Roman Catholic Church worldwide, which continues to this day.

“There were some good foundations laid in those days, which I hope will be built on. I can see them being built on now by my successor and by Pope Francis.”

The Vatican has said Benedict will have a ‘solemn but simple’ funeral on Thursday, which will be celebrated by a sitting Pope for the first time in centuries.

Pope Francis, 86, paid tribute to Benedict during a New Year’s service on Saturday, and again on Sunday, calling him “beloved”.

Francis said: “It is with emotion that we remember his person, so noble, so kind. And we feel in our heart such gratitude, gratitude to God for having gifted him to the church and the world.”