Critics, who are planning protests during his visit, accuse the Catholic Church of failing to act quickly enough to deal with sexual abuse by priests. Before arriving, the pope told reporters on his plane that the Catholic Church's top priority was helping victims heal and regain their trust.
The issue has reignited with the recent revelations in Belgium of hundreds of new victims, at least 13 of whom had committed suicide.
The pope is set to hold a mass in Glasgow later Thursday before departing for London.
The last papal visit to Britain was by John Paul II in 1982. Benedict's trip to Britain is a state visit because he was invited by the monarch.
Details of the pope's trip
- The German-born Benedict's visit comes as the country marks the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.
- The British media has been particularly hostile to the pope's visit, noting its 12-million-pound ($18.7 million) cost to British taxpayers at a time of austerity measures and job losses.
- Thousands of tickets to papal events remain unclaimed even as many of the faithful have expressed joy about his arrival.
- The trip is the first state visit by a pope to the U.K., and his meeting with the queen is symbolically significant because of the historic divide between the officially Protestant nation and the Catholic Church.
- Only 65,000 of the faithful are expected to attend an open air Mass at Bellahouston Park in Glasgow later Thursday, compared to the 100,000 previously expected.
- At the Mass the pope will be serenaded by Susan Boyle, the "Britain's Got Talent" reality show star who shot to global fame last year.
- A beatification event will follow on Sunday for Cardinal John Newman in Birmingham, which will see the 19th-century English philosopher take a step on his way to sainthood.
Pope meets with the Queen
The pope's first meeting Thursday was with Queen Elizabeth II, both head of state and head of the Church of England, at The Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, Scotland.
Benedict was warmly welcomed by the queen, who wore a blue-gray knee-length coat and matching hat and gloves, as tartan-wearing bagpipers marched and thousands watched under cloud-streaked blue skies. The pontiff himself donned a green tartan scarf over his shoulders as he rode through Edinburgh in the Popemobile.
In her remarks, the queen told Benedict that his visit reminded all Britons of their common Christian heritage and said she hoped relations between the Anglican Church and the Catholic Church would be deepened as a result.
She also praised the Catholic Church's "special contribution" to helping the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world.
"We know from experience that through committed dialogue, old suspicions can be transcended and a greater mutual trust encouraged," she said. "We hold that freedom to worship is at the core of our tolerant and democratic society."
The pope, too, recalled the shared Christian heritage of Catholics and Anglicans and said he wanted to extend a "hand of friendship" to the British people during his trip.
He said the queen's forefathers' "respect for truth and justice, for mercy and charity come to you from a faith that remains a mighty force for good in your kingdom."
Benedict referred indirectly to his own roots, recalling how Britain fought the "Nazi tyranny" during World War II, "that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live."
Pope comments on abuse scandal
Asked about polls that suggest many Catholics had lost trust in the church as a result of the sex abuse scandal, Benedict said he was shocked and saddened about the scope of the abuse, in part because priests take vows to be Christ's voice upon ordination.
"It's difficult to understand how a man who has said this could then fall into this perversion. It's a great sadness," Benedict said in Italian. "It's also sad that the authority of the church wasn't sufficiently vigilant, and not sufficiently quick or decisive to take necessary measures" to stop it.
He said the victims were the church's top priority as it tries to help them heal spiritually and psychologically.
"How can we repair, what can we do to help these people overcome this trauma, find their lives again and find again the trust in the message of Christ?" Benedict said.
He insisted that abusive priests must never be allowed access to young children, saying they suffer from an illness that "goodwill" cannot cure. In addition, he said, candidates for the priesthood must be better screened to screen out possible abusers.
The Vatican has been reeling for months from revelations from thousands of victims around the globe of priests who molested children, bishops who covered up for them and Vatican officials who turned a blind eye to the problem for decades.
Previously, Benedict has admitted that the scandal was borne of "sins within the church" but he had never acknowledged in such detail to the church's failures to act. Advocates for victims have long insisted he take more personal responsibility for the scandal, given that he was in charge of the Vatican office that handled sex abuse cases and was archbishop of Munich when a pedophile priest was assigned pastoral work while undergoing therapy for having abused young boys.
Benedict didn't take individual personal responsibility Thursday, saying only that the "authority of the church" had failed.
Vatican officials haven't confirmed that Benedict will meet with abuse victims while in Britain, noting that such meetings - when they have occurred - have only been confirmed after the fact. However, U.K. organizers say arrangements are being made.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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