Page last updated at 07:04 GMT, Monday, 26 April 2010 08:04 UK

Leaked FCO memo 'will not affect Pope visit'

Pope Benedict XVI
The last papal visit to the UK was in May 1982

The Pope's visit to Britain will not be affected by a leaked memo which appeared to mock the Catholic Church, the Vatican has said.

The Foreign Office has apologised over the paper resulting from a "brainstorm" which said the Pope could bless a gay marriage or open an abortion clinic.

UK newspaper reports have quoted Vatican sources as saying the September visit could now be in doubt.

But Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "For us the case is closed."

Noting the Foreign Office's apology, Fr Lombardi told the ANSA news agency the incident would have "absolutely" no impact on the Pope's 16 to 19 September visit.

The Foreign Office has stressed the internal memo by a junior civil servant containing "naive and disrespectful" ideas for marking the visit did not reflect its views.

Details of the document, which also suggested the visit could be marked by special "Benedict" condoms, emerged after it was obtained by the Sunday Telegraph.

I think that Christianity has been so much a part of the furniture of our society that it tends to be neglected and taken for granted
Peter Forster
Bishop of Chester

It prompted the UK's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, to meet senior officials of the Holy See to express regret on behalf of the government.

The junior civil servant responsible for setting up the brainstorming and circulating its results said in a cover note: "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."

The civil servant had since been put on other duties, the Foreign Office said.

Hard line call

Peter Forster, the bishop of Chester, argued that the memo is symptomatic of a greater problem between religion and the secular government.

"I think that Christianity has been so much a part of the furniture of our society that it tends to be neglected and taken for granted," Dr Forster told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There's a 'familiarity breeding contempt' in some circles of society about our Christian heritage which leads to the distasteful events we had yesterday with that memo."

The ideas were attached as one of three "background documents" to a memo dated 5 March 2010 inviting officials in Whitehall and Downing Street to attend a meeting to discuss themes for the papal visit.

It 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 document went on to propose the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit is expected to take in Birmingham, as part of the planned beatification of Cardinal John Newman, and Scotland.

It will be the first papal visit in the UK since John Paul II's visit in 1982.

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