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Last Updated: Saturday, 18 October, 2003, 12:12 GMT 13:12 UK
Frail Pope sees Wales' archbishop
By James Campbell
BBC News Online

Archbishop Peter Smith, Archbishop of Cardiff, meets the Pope
Peter Smith, the Archbishop of Cardiff, chatted with the frail John-Paul II in the Vatican
Wales' three Roman Catholic bishops are in Rome to help the Pope celebrate the 25th anniversary of his accession.

And for the Archbishop of Cardiff, Peter Smith, it was a most moving moment when he personally met the frail and ailing Pope John-Paul II.

"It was difficult for him to speak at length, but I had five or six minutes with him," said the archbishop.

"We said we were praying for him and he answered 'Thank you for everything'."

But the 10-day visit to the Vatican is not just for celebrations for the archbishop and his colleagues, Bishop of Menevia, Mark Jabule, and Bishop of Wrexham, Edwin Regan.

They are there to give an account of how they are handling their dioceses and have a series of meetings with influential cardinals who run the Vatican's powerful machinery.

Peter Smith was named as Archbishop of Cardiff in October 2001 in the midst of a controversy which saw his predecessor Archbishop John Ward step down following allegations that he failed to act decisively in two cases of paedophile priests.

Speaking exclusively to BBC Wales Newsonline from the Vatican, Archbishop Smith emphasised that strong measures have been taken to deal with the problem.

Strict checks

"We have a good child protection team in place in Cardiff, co-operating with the police and following the Nolan Review in which I took part."

The archbishop emphasised that there were strict checks now in place into anyone applying to be considered for the priesthood, including a check with the Criminal Records Bureau.

"I think that before these cases arose we did not have a full understanding into how manipulative and devious these paedophiles could be as they wormed their way into positions where they could reach children," he said.

John-Paul II
John-Paul II during the Mass to celebrate his silver anniversary of becoming Pope

But he added: "Most people trust their priests and there has been less than half of 1% involved. This is still too much but we have our team in place to watch closely."

Obviously moved by his meeting with the Pope, the archbishop said that despite his illness, John-Paul II meets every bishop on a one-to-one basis.

"He asked me how many young men were seeking the vocation of the priesthood in my diocese and I replied only three, but I'm working on it."

The archbishop added that he preferred young men to have some experience of life before they sought to become priests rather than going straight into a seminary after leaving school.

Who will succeed?

With a more than a hint of humour, he said: "They should experience what it is like to have a girl flutter her eyelids at them before they make the commitment to lifelong celibacy."

He added that Pope John-Paul II was a good example, a man who had been involved in life as a drama student, then a factory worker when Poland was under German occupation, before being ordained as a priest in 1946, at the age of 24.

So who will succeed the Pope? The archbishop said: "If you look back who would have predicted Pope John XXIII? Who would have predicted a Polish Pope after hundreds of years of Italians?

"I really believe that the Holy Spirit acts through the cardinals who will gather to elect our next Pontiff.

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