A leaked memo from the British Foreign Office that seemed to mock the Catholic Church will not affect the Pope’s visit to the country in September, says the Vatican
The Foreign Office apologised for the memo, which sprang from a brainstorming session among officials.
It’s headed “The ideal visit would see . . .” and has on it items such as “Launch of ‘Benedict’ condoms,” “Open an abortion ward,” “Bless a civil partnership” and “Reverse policy on women bishops/ordain woman.”
Less whimsical items include “Review of Vatican attitude on condom use,” “Training course for all bishops on child abuse allegations,” and “Meet young unemployed people.”
The shortest suggestion simply says, “Apologise for . . .”
The proposals also include suggestions that Pope open an abortion ward, spend the night in a council flat in Bradford, do forward rolls with children to promote healthy living, and perform a duet with the Queen.
The document also suggests that the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse,” announce the sacking of “dodgy bishops” and announce a “helpline for abused children.”
The memo will not affect the Pope’s visit to the UK in September, however. Some newspaper reports said it might now be under threat, but spokesman Federico Lombardi said: “For us the case is closed.” The incident would have “absolutely” no impact on the visit.
The Foreign Office has stressed that the internal memo by a junior civil servant contained “naïve and disrespectful” ideas for marking the visit and did not reflect its views.
The memo was leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, and prompted the UK’s ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, to meet senior officials there to express regret on behalf of the British government.
Brainstorming sessions are held in all types or organization, and involve throwing ideas, even outrageous ones, into the mix.
In this case, the junior civil servant responsible for setting up the session and circulating the memo said in a cover note: “Please protect; these should not be shared externally. The ‘ideal visit’ paper in particular was the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas.”
However, Peter Forster, the bishop of Chester, argued that the memo is symptomatic of a greater problem between religion and the secular government. (Britain actually has an established church in the form of the Church of England, and 26 bishops are allowed to sit in the upper legislative chamber, the House of Lords, as of right; the country also has hundreds of taxpayer-funded religious schools.)
The Pope’s visit to Britain is already a controversial one, and has led to demonstrations, because of his apparent cover-up of priestly child molestation when he was a cardinal and because of the huge cost to the UK taxpayer. If the visit were a pastoral one rather than a state one, this cost would be met by the Catholic Church, but it could cost Britain up to £20 million, plus the expense of security, which will come from existing police funds.
A recent suggestion by the Pope’s number two, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, that child abuse and paedophilia were connected with homosexuality brought condemnation even from fellow Catholics in the UK.
Recently, the atheist authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens put their weight behind a plan to have the Pope arrested when he gets to Britain and charged under international law with crimes against humanity.