Page last updated at 07:26 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 08:26 UK

Who should pay for the Pope's visit?

By Dan Bell
BBC News

Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict has been invited to make a state visit this autumn

By the time Mass has ended this Sunday morning, the Catholic Church in the UK hopes the trickle of pounds and pence onto collection plates will have raised £1m towards this year's papal visit.

£1m is a lot of small change to pull together in a single morning, but this is a fraction of the total needed to fund the Pope's state visit to England and Scotland in September.

The total bill for the invited visit - without the cost of police and security - is estimated by the Foreign Office to be about £15m. Of this, £7m will come from the Catholic Church, the rest will be shouldered by taxpayers.

It is this final issue of whether, in a secular democracy, the public purse should pay for the visit of a religious leader, that has led to criticism.

In March the National Secular Society (NSS) pressure group delivered a 28,000-name petition to Downing Street objecting to any state funding of what they say is a religious activity.

'No economic benefit'

Terry Sanderson, president of the NSS, said the benefits of the state visit did not justify its cost.

Mr Sanderson said: "State visits are to do with improving trade relations or having some sort of diplomatic contact that will be useful in the future for improving trade - there's nothing like this in this visit.

"The government said it would cost £15m, without the cost of security. But of course, as we've seen with state visits to other countries, it's the security that's the big ticket.

"The Church is trying to take the sting out of this by raising £7m. I'm glad that they also feel that this is a religious visit really and it's got nothing to with the state.

The Pope is coming as a religious leader, but he is also coming at the request of the Queen as a head of state, so all the usual concerns apply
Monsignor Andrew Summersgill

"But there's no benefit to the taxpayer from this unless they happen to be Catholic. They should be paying the whole thing."

Unsurprisingly, the Catholic Church in England and Wales has a different view.

Monsignor Andrew Summersgill, who is co-ordinating the visit, said: "Firstly, the Pope is coming as a religious leader, but he is also coming at the request of the Queen as a head of state, so all the usual concerns apply. Secondly, one in 10 people in this country is Catholic.

"I do understand how people would not agree with the Catholic Church on some things, and they would translate that into why should the British tax payer [have to pay for the visit].

'Many supporters'

"But there are many others who would be very willing to support the visit."

He added that taxes were often spent on things that not everyone agrees with, but that this was "part of being a society".

So where is the Church going to find the £7m it has pledged to contribute?

Mgr Summersgill said most Sunday collections remained within their diocese but for big national collections - such as the Day for Life, which supports the Catholic Church's pro-life work - the Church would expect to collect about £400,000 to £500,000.

We cannot confirm the total costs as these will depend on an assessment of the policing required to manage the security threat posed at the time
Foreign Office

He said for the Papal visit the church hoped people would double their contributions to come up with close to a million.

Mgr Summersgill said more than £3m had already been raised through personal donations and that, along with a range of other fund-raising efforts, he hoped there would be no need to ask parishioners for another collection after the one on Sunday.

The Church's contribution will pay for staging and organising the "pastoral" elements of the Pope's itinerary, such as public masses to take place in different cities across the country.

Mgr Summersgill said: "The cost of staging large gatherings in particular are really quite significant.

'Prayerful and safe'

"If we are going to make those gatherings moments which are both prayerful and safe for those who can be there and if, we're going to make them available online and on television for the vast majority of people who cannot be there, we have to find a way of meeting those costs."

The government remains vague on the details of what the final cost will be to the taxpayer.

The Church said its "very rough estimate" of the number of people who would attend the events was a total of about 400,000.

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "Policing will be provided by the state and we expect these costs to be met from existing budgets.

"We cannot confirm the total costs as these will depend on an assessment of the policing required to manage the security threat posed at the time of the visit.

"The non-policing costs of the papal visit will be in the region of £15m, including both 'state' and pastoral elements.

"Planning and discussions are continuing to firm up this estimate and the appropriate contributions from the government and the Catholic Bishops' Conference. More detailed figures will be made public in due course."

Mgr Summersgill estimated the last visit by a pope, in 1982, cost between £15m and £16m.

According to the Bank of England's inflation calculator, an event costing £16m in 1982 would cost about £42m today.

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