25 Apr 2010

The Foreign Office apologises for Pope 'condom' memo

The Foreign Office has apologised for a "foolish" document which suggested the Pope's visit to the UK could be marked by the launch of "Benedict" condoms.

Called "The ideal visit would see...", it said the Pope could be invited to open an abortion clinic and bless a gay marriage during September's visit.

The Foreign Office stressed the paper, which resulted from a "brainstorm" on the visit, did not reflect its views.


Some will suspect prejudice against faith groups. Perhaps most damaging of all, it could leave an impression that the Pope might be regarded as a figure of fun less than five months before his visit to Britain.

Apart from the pressure on the papal visit from public feeling about sex abuse, and the threat of demonstrations against the Pope, the government needs the Vatican's help in a global diplomatic effort to curb climate change and fight poverty.

How serious and far-reaching the effect of the document is depends partly on how the Church itself responds.

The paper was attached as one of three "background documents" to a memo dated 5 March 2010 inviting officials in Whitehall and Downing Street to attend a meeting to discuss themes for the papal visit.

It suggested Benedict XVI could show his hard line on the sensitive issue of child abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests by "sacking dodgy bishops" and launching a helpline for abused children.

The document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

It listed "positive" public figures who could be made part of the Pope's visit, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair and 2009 Britain's Got Talent runner-up Susan Boyle, and those considered "negative", such as Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

The civil servant responsible for sending round 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."


A source told the BBC News website the individual since moved to other duties had called the group together for "some blue-skies creative thinking about how to make the visit a success", but their discussions had become "a joke that has gone too far".


Earlier this year the Pope announced 2010 would see the first papal visit to the UK since John Paul II's visit in 1982.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit will take place from 16 to 19 September, during which time he is expected to visit Birmingham, as part of the planned beatification of Cardinal John Newman, and Scotland.

The visit will come in the autumn of what is proving to be a difficult year for the Pope with a wave of allegations that Church authorities in Europe and North and South America failed to deal properly with priests accused of paedophilia.

The Pope himself has been accused of being part of a culture of secrecy and of not taking strong enough steps against paedophiles when he had that responsibility as a cardinal in Rome.


Story from BBC NEWS:

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