News / Europe

Pope Benedict Visits Malta Amid Controversy Engulfing Catholic Church

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Pope Benedict visits the Mediterranean island nation of Malta Saturday. The Maltese are looking forward to his arrival in this strongly Catholic country. But the pope knows the clerical sex abuse scandal engulfing the church is on people's minds.

More than 95 percent of the country's population of over 400,000 consider themselves Catholic. Large crowds are expected to turn out for Pope Benedict's two major outdoor events in Malta: a mass on Sunday in Valletta's biggest square and a gathering with young people later that day at the city's port.

It is the first visit by the pope. His trip will last only a day, but for the Maltese the fact that he is coming is very special.

"It's a very nice thing and we are very Catholic and we like it very much. We've been waiting for this," says a Maltese. "I think it's something very special for us really. To see this thing and all these preparations that show how the nation, as a nation, is deeply Catholic."

Pope Benedict will meet with children in Saint George's Square later Saturday and with President George Abala in the Palace. He will also visit a grotto where Saint Paul - the republic's patron saint - chose to live during the three months he was shipwrecked on the island.

But media attention is likely to focus on whether the pope will address the sex abuse scandal that has rocked the catholic church, including cases that have emerge in Malta. Victims of abuse have asked for a meeting with the pope. Church leaders in Malta describe the issue as a matter of great humiliation for the entire church.

But there are many Maltese in the street who say the issue should not be exaggerated, like Lina Mattox, who is looking forward to the pope's arrival.

"Everybody makes mistakes. It's because they've got the clothes on them, it looks more," said Mattox. "It looks more bad than common people because these things happen even in the houses from their father, he abuse of his children, but because it's a priest, you say ohhhhh."

Pope Benedict might meet privately with victims as he did on trips to the United States and Australia, but this has not yet been confirmed.

In his addresses in Malta, Pope Benedict is likely to encourage the Maltese to continue to hold fast to their Christian heritage and allow Christian values to inspire culture and politics. He is also likely to speak about divorce and abortion. Both are illegal in Malta and remain opposed by a majority of the population.

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