Pope's visit will not be affected by 'vile' document

The Pope's visit to Britain will not be affected by the disclosure of a Foreign Office document mocking the Catholic Church, the Vatican said today.

Vatican spokesman Fr Federico Lombardi has noted a Foreign Office apology and said the paper will have "absolutely" no impact on the Pope's visit in September, an official confirmed.

The document, leaked to the Sunday Telegraph, suggested Britain should mark the visit by asking the Pope to open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage and launch a range of Benedict-branded condoms.

It also 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 Foreign Office issued an apology for the memo, describing the suggestions as "ill-judged, naive and disrespectful".

Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy, who is leading the preparations for the visit, also described the suggestions as "absolutely despicable" and "vile".

The ideas were included in a paper titled "The ideal visit would see..." which was distributed to officials in Whitehall and Downing Street preparing for the historic visit.

A cover note said the paper stemmed from a brainstorming session and accepted that some of the ideas were "far-fetched".

Many of the proposals appeared to mock the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on issues such as abortion, homosexuality and contraception and the difficulties it is experiencing over cases of child abuse.

The Foreign Office apologised for what it described as a "foolish" document and said the individual responsible had been transferred to other duties.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was said to have been "appalled" to hear of the paper, and Britain's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, met senior officials of the Holy See to express the Government's regret.

The Foreign Office confirmed that the memo was drawn up by a small group of three or four junior staff in a team working on the papal visit. The document was withdrawn after it was circulated to more senior staff.

The memo also suggested that the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

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

In a note, the official responsible for sending out the memo - a junior civil servant in his 20s - said: "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."

An investigation was launched after some recipients of the memo objected to the disrespectful tone of the paper.

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.

"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. 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."

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said: "It doesn't reflect the discussions we have had with Government officials in our collaborative planning of the papal visit.

"This has no place in the serious planning for this important visit."

The Bishop of Nottingham, the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, told BBC News it reflected "appalling manners".

He said: "I think it's a lot worse that we invite someone into our country - a person like the Pope - and then he's treated in this way.

"I think it's appalling manners more than anything else."

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