LONDON (Sept. 17) -- Pope Benedict XVI has been accused by secularists of making "a terrible libel" during his first papal visit to Britain, after he appeared to associate atheism with the crimes of the Nazi regime during World War II.
In a speech to Queen Elizabeth II and members of the Royal Family in Edinburgh, Scotland, the pope noted that the "Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews," had resulted in the Holocaust. He then asked the increasingly non-believing British public to "reflect on the sobering lessons of atheist extremism of the 20th century" and urged "respect for those traditional values and cultural expressions that more aggressive forms of secularism no longer value or even tolerate."
Atheist organizations -- which are staging nationwide protests against the pope's visit -- condemned Benedict's remarks. "The notion that it was the atheism of Nazis (who were mostly not atheists in any case) that led to their extremist and hateful views or that somehow fuels intolerance in Britain today is a terrible libel against those who do not believe in God," Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said in a statement. He added that it was "surreal" that such a claim was being made by a "man whose organization ... [undermines] the human rights of women, children, gay people and many others."