Walter Kasper pulled out of Pope Benedict’s visit to the UK – which began today – after saying he was ill.
However, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, leader of Roman Catholics in Scotland, said he expected Kasper – who made his remarks in an interview with the German magazine Focus
– to say he’s sorry.
The BBC quotes
Kasper’s words: “England today is a secularized, pluralistic country. When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you’d landed in a Third World country.”
Kasper was asked whether Christians were discriminated against in the UK, to which he responded: “Particularly in England, an aggressive neo-atheism is widespread. For example, if you wear a cross with British Airways, you’re discriminated against.”
He was referring to a case in which an airport worker was disciplined for wearing a cross, which contravened rules on jewellery.
Vatican officials have tried to pour salve on the issue by saying Kasper was talking of the UK’s multicultural society.
Awkward and difficult remarks
But O’Brien told the BBC that the comment “was unfortunate and each and every person’s aides sometimes do make awkward, difficult remarks. Sometimes we make awkward, difficult remarks ourselves.
“And simply, if we do that sort of thing, we apologize for it, and I’m sure Cardinal Kasper will apologise for any intemperate remarks which he made some time ago.”
And the British mainland’s other senior Catholic, Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, said he found Kasper’s comments “quite inexplicable”.
The BBC quotes him as saying: “This is a very diverse country and we rejoice in that diversity. There’s a great richness of people and of cultures and of contributions made in British society and they are an enrichment.”