The Vatican insists that Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain will go ahead in September despite increasing concern that protests and opposition — especially after a memo insulting the Pope surfaced in the Foreign Office — could jeopardize the trip.
The Rev. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, tells Newsmax that there is “no uncertainty about the visit,” and the British government also stresses that the Sept. 16-19 trip will take place as planned.
Lombardi’s comments Monday followed weekend reports of an offensive leaked memo that several U.K. Foreign Office officials had drafted, including suggestions such as asking the Pope on his visit to open an abortion clinic, bless a same-sex marriage, and launch a range of Benedict-branded condoms.
It also proposed that Benedict XVI could show a hard line on the sensitive issue of child abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests by ''sacking dodgy bishops'' and launching a help line for abused children.
The memo, which was circulated on Downing Street and in three government departments, involved a number of mid-level officials, including some diplomats. The main individual responsible has been transferred to other duties and given a verbal and written warning.
In a statement to Newsmax, the Foreign Office stressed that it was “clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect U.K. government” policy or views. “Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive, and disrespectful.”
The document wasn’t cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation, the statement said.
However, contrary to many reports, the memo was not a light-hearted jape, nor did the Foreign Office describe is as such.
“This is a thoroughly disgusting piece of work,” said an informed source who asked not to be named. “It’s not a joke and was never intended as a joke — it’s vile and offensive. I can’t think of a bigger insult to the Catholic Church from a government in the past 30 or 40 years.”
Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, who is leading the preparations for the visit, also described the suggestions as ''absolutely despicable'' and ''vile,'' while David Miliband, the foreign secretary, was said to have been ''appalled'' to hear of the paper.
Newsmax has learned that the memo, drawn up in late February, was even raised at an internal meeting but no opposition was raised and no one has been sacked for the gaffe. Sources say there is not a “uniform culture” against the Pope and the Catholic Church, but someone raised the alarm only when the memo went beyond the Foreign Office.
Since the first-ever papal state visit to Britain was announced, secularists and prominent atheists have mounted a very vocal campaign to prevent it from going ahead, organizing a petition and even calling for the Pope’s arrest on grounds that he covered up cases of clerical sexual abuse. His supporters argue there is no evidence to arrest him and that this Pope has done more than any other church leader to root out sexual abuse by clergy.
However, with the abuse crisis strengthening the opposition, concern is growing among some officials that the trip may be in jeopardy. Some in the Vatican wonder quietly whether such a high level of hostility and ridicule will be too much for the 83-year-old pontiff.
If it is not canceled entirely, they believe, the visit could be curtailed, with the Pope just flying in for the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman, provisionally scheduled for Sept. 19, the last day of his trip.
Many British Catholics would be very disappointed if the visit were to be scrapped, especially as they see Britain in desperate need of Christian values after years of secularization, which is said to have led to social breakdown in parts of the country.
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