Fallout From Leaked Memo Lampooning Pope's Visit

Vatican has accepted apology from British Foreign Office for leaked memo.

April 26, 2010, 12:00 PM

LONDON, April 26, 2010— -- The British Foreign Office has publicly apologized for an internal planning memo on the pope's upcoming visit to the United Kingdom that suggested he open an abortion clinic, launch his own line of "Benedict" condoms and sing a duet with the queen.

The document, exposed in a U.K. newspaper Sunday, was the product of a junior-level planning meeting for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to England and Scotland in September.

Suggestions for the pope also included blessing a gay marriage, sacking "dodgy" bishops and apologizing for the Spanish Armada. The memo circulated from the Foreign Office to Whitehall and Downing Street under the title "The ideal visit would see ..." but was not cleared by senior officials. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was immediately withdrawn, according to the Foreign Office.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband immediately asked his ambassador to the Vatican to apologize to Vatican officials.

The leaked memo will not affect the pope's visit to the U.K., one such official confirmed today.

The Vatican spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said the Vatican accepted the Foreign Office's apology.

"For us, the issue is thus closed and will absolutely not change anything regarding the pope's visit to the U.K. planned for September," he said.

The Foreign Office told ABC News that the leader of the brainstorming meeting where the memo originated had been reprimanded and demoted, and said appropriate action had been taken regarding the "clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful" document.

"This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect U.K. government or FCO policy or views. ...The text was not cleared or shown to ministers or senior officials before circulation, said the Foreign Office.

In addition, the office denied reports that a 23-year-old civil servant wrote the document. Steven Mulvain, an Oxford graduate and personal assistant, was just "unfortunately the man who had to distribute" the document, refuting reports in the U.K. press that Mulvain was the author. "All of a sudden, his reputation has been tarred. He is completely innocent."

Leaked Memo Politically Motivated?

The memo leak has become the latest in a string of other Vatican news stories this year as the British government prepares for the first official visit of Pope Benedict XVI. The last papal visit to the U.K. occurred in 1982.

A spokesman for the Catholic Church in England and Wales said, "This does not reflect the constructive discussions we have had with government officials in the joint planning of the papal visit. It has absolutely no place in the serious planning for this important visit."

Yet Robert Mickens, the Rome correspondent for The Tablet newspaper, said it does add to a developing story line on the visit. "This latest incident is one more reflection of an environment that is not wholly positive at the moment regarding the papal visit," he said.

While the document does not appear to have caused serious concern in Rome, Mickens wonders if the leak may have been politically motivated. "My suspicion is that this is something much more explosive in British society. They're going to the polls in a few weeks, and the pope is becoming a political football in British politics."

The pope confirmed his September visit during a February reception for the bishops of England and Wales in Rome.

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