UK apologises for papal memo


Britain's foreign office apologised today for a memorandum by a civil servant suggesting Pope Benedict should open a hospital abortion ward when he visits Britain this year.

The document, which was leaked to the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, also included the proposals that the pope should bless a gay marriage and launch papal-branded condoms when he comes to Britain in September.

The paper said the ideas, ridiculing the teachings of the Catholic Church against abortion and contraception, resulted from a "brainstorm" session. It said Britain's ambassador to the Vatican had expressed the government's regret to senior officials there.

"This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or FCO policy or views," a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said. "Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful."

The paper said the proposals, drawn up by a junior civil servant in a memo headlined "The ideal visit would see ...", were circulated among officials in prime minister Gordon Brown's Downing Street office and at the foreign office.

The document, which had a cover note admitting that some of the plans were "far-fetched", also alluded to sex scandals involving paedophile priests in a number of countries by suggesting Pope Benedict should launch a helpline for abused children.

Other ideas included getting the pontiff to perform forward rolls with children to promote healthy living and even performing a duet with Queen Elizabeth, the Sunday Telegraph said.

The foreign office spokesman said no ministers had been shown the document and it was withdrawn when senior officials became aware of it. The individual responsible had been moved 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 spokesman said.

"The FCO 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."

Pope Benedict's trip from September 16th to 19th will be the first papal visit to Britain since 1982. He is due to meet the queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, spiritual head of the Anglican Church.