TENSIONS surrounding the Pope’s visit to Scotland and England intensified last night as one of his key advisers compared Britain to the Third World.
Cardinal Walter Kasper pulled out of the papal tour which begins in Edinburgh today as hisremarks fuelled the surge of controversy engulfing the visit.
The decision of Irish primate Seán Brady to fly to Scotland for the Papal events is also expected to heighten anger from clerical child abuse survivors’ groups who plan to protest.
Cardinal Brady withstood widespread demands for his resignation earlier this year for his role enabling paedophile priest Brendan Smyth to continue abusing children for 18 years after Smyth’s crimes were revealed.
Fears that trouble will rock the Pope’s visit were expressed by one of England’s most senior Catholics, Peter Smith, archbishop of Southwark, who warned “lunatics and crackpots” may try and disrupt it.
Child abuse survivors’ groups, women’s rights organisations, gay equality campaigners and atheists have all mobilised to protest against Pope Benedict XVI, while British media reports have centred on anger that the trip will cost the taxpayer between €12 million and €20m.
Even Catholic groups have expressed discontent at the way the three open-air events in Glasgow, London’s Hyde park and Birmingham have been organised for the four-day tour.
The fact the visit will be a state one as well as a pastoral tour has also provoked criticism, with 50 public figures, including broadcaster Stephen Fry, insisting Benedict XVI did not deserve the “honour” due to his opposition to the use of condoms in combating AIDS and his views on women and gay rights.
The Vatican insisted Kasper would not be going to Britain due to “health reasons”, but his remarks in a German magazine that arriving in Britain “you sometimes think you’ve landed in a Third World country” will not help the atmosphere of the tour.
The Pope will be received by Queen Elizabeth in Edinburgh before presiding over an open air Mass in Glasgow. He will then fly to London where he will address political leaders at Westminster Palace before a leading a prayer vigil in Central London on Saturday and presiding over a ceremony of beatification for Cardinal John Newman in Birmingham on Saturday.
The Protest the Pope coalition said it intended to hold peaceful rallies and no attempt will be made to arrest Benedict for alleged “crimes against humanity”.
As well as his Third World comment Kasper also said christians were now discriminated against in Britain.
“Above all, an aggressive new atheism has spread through Britain. If, for example, you wear a cross on British Airways, you are discriminated against,” he said.
His comments refer to a bitter row in 2006 in which British Airways disciplined a member of staff for wearing a cross on the outside of her uniform.
The Pope usually flies home on the national carrier of the country he has visited, but when he leaves Britain on Sunday it will be on an Alitalia flight, not a BA one.
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