UK

Anti-Pope rhetoric is overdone says Vatican

Pope Benedict
Image caption Pope Benedict is not officially scheduled to meet with victims of clerical sexual abuse while in Britain

The Vatican is playing down fears over 'No Popery' demonstrations planned during the State visit by Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland and England, which starts on Thursday.

Father Federico Lombardi, the Pope's official spokesman, told journalists that in the view of the Holy See, the British media have exaggerated the extent of local opposition to the four-day visit.

Neither the Papal visit's estimated cost of more than £17m for security and logistics, nor its jogging of memories of past religious and political disputes between Britain and the papacy dating back to the time of King Henry VIII, are regarded in Rome as valid reasons for criticising the Pope.

The message that Pope Benedict will be bringing with him from Rome is the importance of the role of faith for everyone in contemporary Britain - not only for Catholics and Anglicans, Vatican officials have said.

He claims to understand the rapid secularisation of British society but is known to be concerned that Christianity remains a point of focus and an anchor, add the officials.

It is only the second time a Pope has visited Britian.

The first Pope to travel to London was John Paul II in 1982 during the dramatic days of the Falklands War.

Dialogue

Benedict visited Britain before he was made Pope and speaks fluent English.

His last visit was in 1988 when he delivered a theological lecture at Cambridge University.

Organisers hope the high points of the visit - on a religious level - will be the visible signs of warmth and friendship displayed between the head of the worldwide Roman Catholic Church and the head of the 77 million-strong Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On Friday evening the Pope and the Archbishop are due to pray together at the shrine in Westminster Abbey of St Edward the Confessor, who is venerated in both traditions.

Dialogue between the two separated churches has been going on for decades, despite theological differences over the validity of Anglican Holy Orders and the appointment of women priests and Bishops by the Anglican Church.

Vatican spies

On the last day of his visit Pope Benedict has decided to honour the outstanding 19th Century Anglican clergyman, and later Cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, John Henry Newman, at a solemn ceremony in Birmingham. The Pope will declare him a 'Blessed', the final step towards official Catholic Sainthood .

Image caption Cardinal Newman shocked Britain when he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845

Memories of tragic divisions of the past will also be evoked during the Pope's visit to London when he speaks to leaders of civil society gathered in Westminster Hall, near Westminister Abbey.

This was where Sir Thomas More was tried and condemned to death for defending his ultimate allegiance to the Holy See rather than his loyalty to King Henry VIII, who had appointed him Lord Chancellor.

Just like Edward the Confessor, Sir Thomas More is today venerated by both churches. Catholics refer to both men as saints.

In his planned speech during Evensong in Westminister Abbey, Pope Benedict, who is German, plans to evoke more modern divisions and memories when he refers to this year's 70th anniversary of the Battle of Britain.

Official relations between England and the Vatican predate the reign of Henry VIII.

The first resident English Ambassador anywhere in the world was sent to Rome towards the end of the 15th Century when Christopher Bainbridge was appointed by King Henry VII as his ambassador to the Pope.

In 1497, the Milanese Ambassador in London wrote to his Duke Ludovico Sforza that there was 'nothing that King Henry did not know about what went on in Rome.'

Vatican spies were active in London during Henry VIII's divorce proceedings. VIP visitors to the Vatican Secret Archive are still today shown some of Henry's love letters to Anne Boleyn that the spies sent to Rome as evidence for the Pope to consider while deciding whether to punish the English king.

Clerical abuse

The diplomatic breach after the reformation was never total. Formal relations were re-established between the British government and the Vatican in 1914 on the outbreak of the first world war.

Sir Henry Howard, a diplomat from a leading Roman Catholic family, was despatched to Rome to congratulate the newly elected Pope Benedict XV and to explain to him why Britain was going to war with Germany.

The Vatican is being very cautious over whether Pope Benedict will hold discreet meetings with victims of clerical sexual abuse while he is in Britain, as he has done during recent visits to the United States, Australia and Malta.

For the moment, no such event is scheduled. The scandal caused in Rome by reports of paedophile activities by Catholic priests in many countries is something Pope Benedict would gladly forget during his stay in Scotland and England.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites