Pope likens the rise of atheism in Britain to the Nazis as he admits his 'shock and sadness' over abuse scandal

The Pope controversially likened the rise of atheism in Britain to Nazi Germany today as he warned against ‘aggressive forms of secularism’ at the start of his historic state visit.

Risking sparking a new row after one of his aides likened the UK to the ‘Third World’, the former member of the Hitler Youth invoked Nazi Germany in an attack on ‘atheist extremism’.

It came after Benedict XVI apologised for the Catholic Church’s handling of the child abuse scandal as he flew to Scotland this morning.

The 83-year-old Pope admitted on the flight that the church had not dealt with abusive priests decisively or quickly enough.

The comments are his most thorough admission to date of failings in the way the sex abuse scandal was handled.

The Pope wasted no time in warning about the rise of secularism in society, in what is likely to be an ongoing theme of his trip – but it was his reference to Nazism that raised eyebrows.

As the Queen looked on, he said: ‘Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews, who were thought unfit to live.

‘I also recall the regime’s attitude to Christian pastors and religious who spoke the truth in love, opposed the Nazis and paid for that opposition with their lives.

‘As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the twentieth century, let us never forget how the exclusion of God, religion and virtue from public life leads ultimately to a truncated vision of man and of society and thus to a “reductive vision of the person and his destiny".’

He added: ‘Today, the United Kingdom strives to be a modern and multicultural society. In this challenging enterprise, may it always maintain its respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate.

‘Let it not obscure the Christian foundation that underpins its freedoms; and may that patrimony, which has always served the nation well, constantly inform the example your Government and people set before the two billion members of the Commonwealth and the great family of English-speaking nations throughout the world.’

• Full story at the Daily Mail.