Paisley leads the protests as Pope set for hostile reception
POPE Benedict is likely to struggle to win over hearts and minds when he lands in Britain on Thursday after a new poll revealed that two-thirds of respondents are unhappy with the state visit.
The poll came as the Catholic Church said that ticket sales for the three main events in Glasgow, London and Birmingham had fallen thousands short of hoped-for numbers.
Hostility toward the church and the fallout from the child sex abuse scandals have undermined public confidence in the first visit by a pontiff since 1982.
It has also emerged that Ian Paisley is to lead a delegation from his Free Presbyterian Church to Scotland and hold a rally at a church in Rutherglen, near Glasgow, tomorrow evening.
On Thursday, the group will hold a service in Edinburgh's Magdalen Chapel followed by a public protest.
Cardinal Keith O'Brien, leader of the church in Scotland, accepted the desire by some groups to protest against the Pope's visit to Britain.
Asked about the planned visit by Dr Paisley, he said: "I'm from the north of Ireland myself, and Ian Paisley is, or was, a member of parliament in my home area in north Antrim. Basically, if Ian Paisley didn't come, I wouldn't have thought the visit was worthwhile. It just shows how important this visit is that Ian Paisley's coming along to protest."
An overwhelming majority of those polled by Populus believe the church is intolerant and judgmental in its outlook. It found that 83pc of respondents thought the Vatican had been "dishonest" about the abuse of children.
Women are particularly unhappy about the £22m (€26m) cost of the visit, with two-thirds objecting to the taxpayer footing the bill.
Men are more likely to oppose the visit on principle because they dislike Pope Benedict's track record and his views, with 15pc saying that he should not enter Britain, regardless of cost.
Only 14pc of those polled say they are positively in favour of the visit, regardless of cost, with professional respondents most likely to endorse the Pope's arrival unconditionally. A further 16pc say they do not feel strongly either way.
While 57pc say they do not feel strongly about the event, they object to the British taxpayer funding it.