By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Officials of the British government have issued a formal apology to Pope Benedict XVI after an internal memo was leaked to the press in which the UK Foreign Office joked about things the pope might do during his September trip – such as open an abortion clinic, set up a hotline for abused children, or bless a gay marriage.
According to London’s Sunday Telegraph, the paper was created during a brainstorming session at the Foreign Ministry about themes for the papal visit. The paper. entitled “The ideal visit would see . . .” included items such as suggesting the Pope display his hard line toward the abuse scandal by “sacking dodgy bishops,” singing with the Queen for charity, opening up an abortion clinic, blessing a gay marriage, and even launching a lne of “Benedict-branded” condoms.
The memo, which was distributed to officials in Whitehall and Downing Street, contained a cover note saying the paper was not to be released externally and that it contained all of the ideas from the session, even those that were “far-fetched.”
When the memo appeared in the Telegraph, it caused international outrage and prompted a sharp reply from the Vatican.
“The British Government has invited the Pope as its guest and he should be treated with respect,” said Cardinal Renato Martino, former head of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace. “To make a mockery of his beliefs and the beliefs of millions of Catholics, not just in Britain but across the world, is very offensive indeed.”
The UK governmen was quick to apologize, however. A Foreign Office 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 text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.”
He went on to say that the person responsible for the memo 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.”
Officials expressed their deep sorrow for the offense. “We strongly value the close and productive relationship between the UK Government and the Holy See and look forward to deepening this further with the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK later this year.”
According to Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi, the apology has been accepted. ”They supplied all the explanations, and there is nothing to add,” Fr. Lombardi said.
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