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Archbishop to meet Pope protesters

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark (Mazur/CCN)

Archbishop Peter Smith of Southwark is to meet the leaders of the Protest the Pope campaign today to ask them to “show respect” to Catholics celebrating the Pope’s visit.

The archbishop said he wanted to encourage a dignified protest that would not disrupt the occasion for the faithful.

He said: “They are perfectly entitled to protest. What I would ask of all of them is to do so in a dignified way, which does not disrupt the joy of the Catholic community in welcoming the Pope. I hope they would show respect to those of us who do have [religious] convictions.”

The meeting was arranged by Scotland Yard, who told protesters in a letter that it had been requested by Archbishop Smith.

In the letter Sgt Nicholas Williams, the Met’s head of the Communities Together Strategic Engagement Team, said: “The Metropolitan Police Service will provide a room for the meeting between members of the Protest the Pope Movement and the Roman Catholic Church.

“Can I stress this is not a Metropolitan Police meeting. We are simply acting as the ‘middle man’ in order to bring you and the Roman Catholic Church together for a discussion.”

The archbishop was expected to meet Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, Terry Sanderson, president of the National Secular Society, and gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell.

They are organising a rally at Hyde Park Corner, central London, a spot the Pope will pass in his popemobile. It is thought a similar protest in Scotland failed to attract any interest.

It also this week emerged that protesters may be planning to pelt the popemobile with eggs. A Facebook group called “Egg the Pope” had attracted 21 members at the time of writing.

Meanwhile, Geoffrey Robinson QC has published a legal argument for arresting the Holy Father on the grounds of “crimes against humanity”.

But Meredydd Hughes, the chief constable co-ordinating security for the visit, has said that anyone who tries to arrest the Pope could themselves be arrested.

Officers will be issued with detailed guidelines on how to deal with protesters and will be told they can arrest anyone who tries a citizen’s arrest.

Mr Robinson’s argument has also been picked apart by Catholic journalist Austen Ivereigh, who said he had made “serious errors” – for one, arguing that Britain only recognised the Vatican as a state in the 1929 Lateran Treaty.

Mr Ivereigh explained that Britain had a relationship with the Holy See, not the Vatican City State. That relationship predates the Lateran Treaty: it was established in 1479, and, after a four-century hiatus, resumed in 1914.