Foreign Office apologises for 'vile' memo

The fallout over a Foreign Office memo which mocked the Pope's forthcoming visit to Britain continued yesterday when the minister in charge of co-ordinating the trip branded the remarks "vile and disgusting".

The memo, details of which were revealed in two Sunday newspapers, suggested among other things that the head of the Roman Catholic Church could use his visit – the first Papal visit to Britain since 1982 – to launch his own brand condoms and attend the opening of an abortion clinic.

The Foreign Office was forced to issue a full apology and the official responsible for circulating the memo has now been "transferred to other duties".

The Scottish Secretary, Jim Murphy, the minister responsible the Pope's visit, said: "On these memos, it's absolutely despicable.These are vile, they're insulting they are an embarrassment, and, on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, we'd want to apologise to his Holiness the Pope."

The document at the centre of the controversy is the result of a brainstorming session attended by Foreign Office staff who were asked to propose ideas for the visit.

It was titled: "The ideal visit would see..." and included ideas which, rather than attempt to seriously plan for the Papal visit in September, ridiculed the Catholic Church and its teachings.

Among them were that Pope Benedict XVI could bless a civil partnership, reverse his policy on women bishops and take a harder line on child abuse – a reference to the recent scandal which has rocked the church. More bizarre recommendations include persuading the Pope to "spend night in council flat in Bradford" and "do forward rolls with children to promote healthy living".

Beside the memo was a chart which listed several "Papal visit stakeholders" and ranked them on how influential each was and whether they were "positive" or "negative". While some are self explanatory – the police who will guard the Pope and the Prime Minister are both positive and influential – others are more bizarre.



Video: Apology over Pope memo

Wayne Rooney, who was brought up a Catholic, is listed as negative and not influential but Susan Boyle, the singer, is listed as positive and influential.

The document was sent out with a note from a Foreign Office civil servant admitting that some of the plans were "far-fetched".

It is not known how many members of staff were involved in the brainstorming session as the meeting was not recorded in minutes. Those who were known to be involved have been spoken to, and the member of staff who circulated the memo has been disciplined.

A statement released by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office expressed regret over the incident.

It read: "This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or FCO 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 judgement and has accepted this view. The FCO very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused."

The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, said: "This is appalling. You don't invite someone to your country and then [show them] disrespect in this way. It's outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope."

Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope's spokesman, said: "I am aware that the Foreign Office has made a statement on this matter and I am aware of the contents of the memo. We are not saying anything else as there is no need to ruin the good relations between the British Government and the Vatican."

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