Monday April 26, 2010

“Insulting” UK Foreign Office Document Invites Pope to Open Abortion Facility

By Hilary White

ROME, April 26, 2010 ( – In an internal memorandum that has since been withdrawn by an embarrassed Foreign Office, officials of the Labour government suggested that the “ideal” papal visit would include Benedict presiding over the opening of an abortion facility and a homosexual “marriage” ceremony. The document also suggested that the pope should launch a special “Pope Benedict” brand of condoms.

Despite official apologies, Catholic leaders and commentators have reacted angrily to the document that they say typifies the attitude of the Labour government towards Christianity, and to Catholicism in particular.

According to the statement by the Foreign Office, the document was the work of a group of “junior civil servants” given the task of brainstorming ideas for the papal visit in September. A spokesman said, “This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful.”

“The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgment and has accepted this view. The Foreign Office very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused.”

The Daily Telegraph quotes one official saying, “As soon as adults found out about it, he was moved sideways and down.” Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, the MP in charge of planning the visit and a Catholic, said the proposals were “absolutely despicable” and “vile.” “They’re insulting, they’re an embarrassment, and on behalf of I think the whole of the United Kingdom we’d want to apologize to his Holiness the Pope,” he said.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said he was “appalled” and called it “a colossal failure of judgment,” and the UK’s ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, has offered an apology to senior officials of the Holy See.

Bishop Malcolm McMahon of the Nottingham diocese told media he was astonished by the proposals and called it a case of “appalling manners.” “You don’t invite someone to your country and then disrespect them in this way. It’s outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope.”

McMahon said he hoped the memo was meant to be “light hearted,” and added that Catholics would probably not be too upset by it since they “are used to getting a bad press.”

But commentators on both sides of the Channel are not letting the government off so easily, calling the document an indication of the ideological commitment of the British political class to fashionable secularist anti-Catholicism.

Damian Thompson, editor of the Catholic Herald and blogs editor for the Daily Telegraph, rhetorically asked the Catholic bishops of England and Wales, “What did you expect?” The document may have been disowned by the Foreign Office, said Thompson, but it does “reflect the attitudes of Brown’s government and its politically correct employees” towards Catholicism.

“Now do you finally understand what sort of snide, cheap and ignorant prejudice has flourished under this Government and its civil servants – wall-to-wall secularists for whom the Roman Catholic Church is at best an antiquated irrelevance and at worst a sick joke?”

Gerald Warner, a long-time member of the Conservative party and now a commentator for the Telegraph, asked why the officials responsible have not been sacked, noting that in Gordon Brown’s “politically correct, ultra-sensitive” Britain: “wear a crucifix to work and you face dismissal; grossly insult the Pope and you are ‘transferred to other duties’.”

The “continuing tenure” of the official, he said, “is a defiant gesture of contempt for Christianity.” “If the guttersnipe document had insulted Islam, ethnic minorities or homosexuals, the offender’s feet would not have touched the ground.”

Warner called the Foreign Office “a department of state that had gone feral” and said that its ruling secularist mentality is the offspring of the “black legend of popery” invented in the 16th century by “Elizabethan spin-doctors.”

“The infantilism of the anti-Catholic myth, once an Anglican prejudice, persists today in the agenda of secularists. That was the real point behind the Foreign Office document – not the immediate offence, but the mindset it betrayed.”

Diana Alfieri wrote in the Italian daily Il Giornale that the memo indicates “serious problems” in the Foreign Office that almost caused a diplomatic incident and leaves the British government barely enough time to “repair the damage, which is great.” The mistake was “perhaps one of the worst in terms of image, in the whole history of the British Foreign Office.”

“[T]he document could give the impression that, five months before his visit to the kingdom, the Pope is an object of derision.”

La Stampa’s Marco Tosatti said, “It did not help improve the anti-papal climate that some sectors are seeking to feed in Britain.”

Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi denied British media rumors that the Vatican was considering cancelling the visit, saying the “case is closed” and that it would have “absolutely” no impact on the visit.