LONDON – Pilgrims will have to pay as much as $39 to attend one of the two public events in England to be led by Pope Benedict XVI during his visit in September, church officials said Wednesday.

The charges — believed to be a first for a papal event — are for a prayer vigil in London’s Hyde Park on Sept. 18 and the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman in Birmingham on Sept. 19.

Benedict’s four-day visit to England and Scotland has been controversial almost from the start, with thousands of Britons signing a petition earlier this year against the pope’s presence in the wake of outrage over sex crimes against children committed by Catholic priests.

Critics have also complained about the cost. Chris Patten, the official coordinating the event, has said the taxpayers’ tab for the visit to Britain could be as much as 12 million pounds, not counting extra policing costs.

The previous government of Prime Minister Gordon Brown invited the pope — a decision the austerity-minded new coalition government has not sought to change, despite public unease.

In Rome, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said Wednesday that the Vatican understands that the faithful will be asked to make a “contribution.” Lombardi said he understood that those who cannot pay will be not be required to do so.