One of Pope Benedict XVI’s top aides punched his own ticket with the papal entourage to Great Britain, pulling out of the trip after describing the country as something akin to a Third World country overrun with atheism. The official Vatican stance is that health considerations prompted the 77-year-old Cardinal Walter Kasper to cancel out of the first state visit of a sitting Pope to Great Britain since the Reformation.
But the unofficial word whispered in Rome’s catacombs — and the scuttlebutt on London streets among Brits already somewhat riled about the papal visit — was that Kasper’s withdrawal is tied to embarrassing quotes in the German news magazine Focus, according to a report in the London Telegraph.
The Telegraph cites a Focus article in which the cardinal was quoted as saying: “When you arrive at Heathrow, you think at times that you’ve landed in a Third World country.”
However, his secretary, Monsignor Oliver Lahl, explained to the Telegraph that the comment referred to Britain’s diverse, multicultural population.
Not everyone’s buying the explanation, in light of the division the Pope’s visit already has sparked, ranging from the millions it is costing taxpayers to rebellion over the church’s response to sexual abuse. Ironically, Cardinal Kasper's post before retiring was president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity.
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