UK Bishops Under Fire for Papal Guide

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

In an attempt to be trendy, UK Catholic bishops have published what is being called a “cringe-worthy” guide to the upcoming papal masses in which they refer to the Masses as “gigs” and to the Pope as a “headline act.”

London’s Daily Mail reports that thousands of the embarrassing eight-page guides to the papal visit are being distributed by the official Papal Visit Team which is overseeen by the Archbishop of Westminster, Most Rev. Vincent Nichols. It carries the official slogan of the visit “Heart Speaks Unto Heart” and is aimed at workers from companies arranging events, police officers, broadcasters and journalists who may not be Catholics and are unsure about the Church’s rituals and beliefs.

In an effort to speak in a language more understandable to this audience, the pamphlet refers to the sanctuary as a “stage” and the distribution of Holy Communion as a “giving out.” The Blessed Sacrament is “bread and wine” and the altar is a “table.”

“This booklet is most unfortunate because it risks exposing the Church to ridicule once again,” said an unnamed “senior Catholic insider” about the publication. “I suppose the idea is to give non-Catholics an idea of what Catholics believe in easy-to-understand English, but the result makes me cringe. It seems like an attempt to be trendy, but it just undermines the dignity of the trip and I can’t understand how the bishops can have approved this.”

Church officials are defending the pamphlet, however.

“We are explaining to the Government, police and the technical people involved in the events that even though some of the services are in the open air, they have to be treated as if they are in a cathedral,” a spokesman said. “We have used language familiar from their own experience while emphasizing the reverence of the occasion.”

Unfortunately, many find the booklet to be offensive, saying it raises fresh questions about the handling of the Pope’s first visit to the nation since 1982, an event that has been mired in controversy since it was first announced.

The most egregious misstep occurred in April when copies of a Foreign Office memo mocking the papal visit was leaked to the press. In the memo, staff suggestions for ways to celebrate the “ideal” papal visit included launching a line of “Benedict condoms,” opening an abortion clinic or backing a Miss Developing World beauty contest.

The memo caused such a furor the British Foreign Office was forced to issue an apology to the Pope and the British Ambassador to the Holy See, Francis Campbell, personally met with Vatican officials.

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