The UK’s Foreign Office and John 15:18

A couple days I noticed a story in the Daily Telegraph about the memos circulating in the UK’s Foreign Office about the Pope’s upcoming visit.

Here is a taste.

Ministers apologise for insult to Pope

The Government has apologised to the Pope over official documents that mocked his forthcoming visit to Britain by suggesting he should bless a gay marriage and even launch Papal-branded condoms.

By Jonathan Wynne-Jones, Religious Affairs Correspondent

The astonishing proposals, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, were contained in secret papers drawn up earlier this month by civil servants following a ‘brainstorm’.

The ideas, included in a memo headed ‘The ideal visit would see …’, ridiculed the Catholic Church’s teachings including its opposition to abortion, homosexual behaviour and contraception. Many appeared to be deliberately provocative rather than a serious attempt to plan an itinerary for the September visit.

The proposals, which were then circulated among key officials in Downing Street and Whitehall, also include the Pope opening an abortion ward; spending the night in a council flat in Bradford; doing forward rolls with children to promote healthy living; and even performing a duet with the Queen.

In reference to the hugely sensitive issue of child abuse engulfing the Catholic Church, the Government document suggests that the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops” and “launch helpline for abused children”[Consider what reaction there would have been from the UK’s government had the Holy See told them what they should do?  However, that point about "sacking dodgy bishops"… well… even blind squirrels happen on acorns.]

The document was sent out by a junior Foreign Office civil servant with a covering note admitting that some of the plans were “far-fetched”.

Recipients of the memo were furious at its content and an investigation was launched. One senior official was found responsible and has been transferred to other duties.

Yesterday the Foreign Office issued a public apology after being approached by The Sunday Telegraph, while Francis Campbell, the UK ambassador to the Vatican, met senior officials of the Holy See to express the Government’s regret.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was “appalled” to hear of the proposals, according to a source close to him, and blamed “a colossal failure of judgement” by officials involved.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful.

“The text was not cleared or shown to Ministers or senior officials before circulation. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.

“The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. [Ironic.] He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement and has accepted this view.

“The Foreign Office very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused.



Read the rest there.  Also, check Damian Thompson‘s comments, including:


My reaction is to say to the Bishops of England and Wales: NOW do you finally understand what sort of snide, cheap and ignorant prejudice has flourished under this Government and its civil servants – wall-to-wall secularists for whom the Roman Catholic Church is at best an antiquated irrelevance and at worst a sick joke?


John 15:18!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. “well… even blind squirrels happen on acorns”

    Hahahahaha, Father Z, you are so funny. I was thinking along the same lines but your little statement said it all. I have not laughed aloud while reading on the internet in quite some time. Thanks for starting my week off with a smile and chuckle.

  2. irishgirl says:

    ‘even blind squirrels’….ooo, that’s a good one, Father Z!

    But seriously….what those ‘civil servants’ concocted was beyond reprehensbile….it was stupid!

    And as always, Damian Thompson has it right on the money!

  3. mpm says:

    “The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties.”

    Hopefully, that Oxbridge pusson is now restricted to playing with children of his/her own age!

    Well, that’s what “good government” is for, innit!

  4. DavidJ says:

    I’ve always said “even a blind man gets a bulls-eye now and again” myself, but that works too.

  5. sawdustmick says:

    Where ARE the English and Welsh hierarchy when they should be defending the Faith ? Dismissing this sort of thing as a ‘joke’ in the hope that it will go away is very much akin to sticking ones head in the sand.

    In all charity, I will stand four square behind our Bishops when (and to be fair, they have done in the past) they stand up for the Faith they are supposed to be proclaiming IN SEASON and OUT OF SEASON. However, at present, they seem to be more interested in agreeing a form of words that is not going to cause offence to anyone than proclaiming the Gospel.

    I do wonder at some of our prelates as we now have an ex Member of Parliament, Greg Pope, who has voted AGAINST Pro-Life legislation in Parliament, as Number one at the Catholic Education Service.

    Miserere Nobis

  6. asperges says:

    The political input, has little to do with it, I suggest. This kind of infantile, jokey exercise (this one escaped into the public domain accidententally) is allowed in an ultra-liberal “no holds barred” atmosphere which is by no means limited to the Civil Service. It is born of a notion of bizarre tolerance which is fine against certain groups (and certainly aginst Christian groups) but which would be stamped on, and even the subject of litigation, were Muslims or Jewish of other ethnic groups involved.

    This new unshockable openness is also very much encouraged and diffused in a new breed of (very unfunny) cynical humour in the UK which stops at absolutely nothing for ridicule – put out as “sophisticated” in the media. “Curb your Enthusiasm” is the only rough comparison I can think of for a US programme (there are probably better examples) – deeply offensive – but oh, so untrendy not to find it funny.

    There has been a tolerance in Britain for centuries: look at the cartoons against the Georges and politicians in the 18th century – and even Chaucer an the 14th cent didn’t hesitate to mock all sorts – but there were limits of decency, and, alas, it is the exceeding of these that is now trendy, fashionable and almost de rigueur.

  7. greg the beachcomber says:

    Transferring offending priests, bad. Transferring offending civil servants, good.

    Welcome to the New World Order.

  8. MikeM says:

    Maybe it’s the all-boys-school alumnus in me, but I’m sure this was a joke, and in and of itself it’s kind of harmless. Of course, the joke demonstrates the obvious that the Pope doesn’t get much respect in the British government, but that really comes as no surprise. British taxpayers should be annoyed regardless of their opinions of the Pope, though. Brits, you guys are PAYING for this!

  9. puma19 says:

    As a resident of London and a catholic let me make some observations on this FCO fiasco, having had dealings with officials there over the years and been in the place.
    1. The Foreign Secretary is said to be ‘appalled’ at the memo circulated.
    BUT he has made no public statement on such a serious matter nor has he held a press conference to answer questions especially how such a memo was allowed to be circulated and that NO ONE has been sacked.
    2. A nurse was sacked because she wore a small cross at work, can you believe and then lost an appeal. NO FCO officer has been saacked yet brought into disprepute the FCO and relations with the Vatican and of course the Pope WHO WAS INVITED HERE by the Prime Minister.
    3. The Prime Minister has givemn no public statment or apology for the FCO memo. And it was he who invited the Pope. What weakness, what a cop out. The man is a failure as PM and the voters will deliver their verdict in 10 days time.
    4. Now, for shame, the Archbishop of Westminster has issued no statement on the matter as of Monday. Why, when the pope is made an object of ridicule and crass comments has the Head of the Church in England and Wales said nothing and indeed not even bothering to condemn the FCO memo and not the man?
    This is the man who may be made a cardinal soon and cardinals are meant to give their lives for the faith and in defence of the pope – thus the red. But he and 97% of the bishops have said nothing, only the bishop of Nottingham. What about the ARCHBISHOPS of Cardiff, Birmingham and Liverpool? Why the silence and not statements about the lack of respect?
    5.This startling inaction by the Catholic bishops in this whole issue is a disgrace.
    6. We have had more reaction from blogs on The Daily Telegraph than from the bishops and they ought speak out.
    7. Bishops are meant to be leaders of the faithful, shepherd of their sheep when under attack from wolves and in this case, wolves in diplomatic clothing.

    I am ashamed of their inaction. The media has spoken out, what of the successors of the martyred apostles?
    Has weakness and silence now become the norm when it come to the Successor of Peter?

  10. jaykay says:

    ” the proposals… were contained in secret papers drawn up earlier this month by civil servants following a ‘brainstorm’.

    If that’s their idea of a brainstorm I’d really hate to see them on a slow decision day. Seriously, the people responsible for this knew *exactly* what they were doing. You don’t get into the Foreign Office with a bunch of pass GCEs or whatever it is they have these days. The fact that the person responsible was Oxbridge, and therefore a representative of the creme de la creme of the UK education system, is revealing. That such a person, at a relatively low level, originated it and circulated it, clearly thinking he could get away with it… well, what does that indicate about the atmosphere in that place? I don’t think any of the old-fashioned bowler hat & striped trousers Civil servants, caricatures though they may have been, would have been ungentlemanly enough to have even considered doing such a thing.

  11. MichaelJ says:

    I wonder. Had the “individual responsible” made such comments about any other group – say, homosexuals or moslems or jewish people – would he simply have “been transferred to other duties.” and “told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement”?

    I do not wish to see further punishment, but I really would hope to see some consistency.

  12. Rob Cartusciello says:

    This comes as no surprise. The is the U.K., first among the nations for inveterate anti-Catholicism and Purveyors of the “Black Legend”

    Combine that with snarky, effete, soulless liberalism, and this is the result.

    In one was, it is a bad joke gone public. In another, it is a sign of what they truly think of us.

  13. Ferde Rombola says:

    puma19, I think official comment from either the Foreign Secretary or Catholic bishops would be giving this kind of sophomoronic silliness more credence than it deserves. Looks to me like the Boys in the Band playing again.

    I DO agree someone should be fired.

  14. Gladiatrix says:

    Re the silence from Archbishop Nichols, I think he is following long-standing British tradition in treating a contemptible action with the contempt it so richly deserves. In this case silence speaks volumes, a reply would only serve to dignify the stupidity.

  15. Jim of Bowie says:

    Didn’t I see this in an episode of Yes, Minister?

  16. mark1970 says:

    Rob, unfortunately, this incident isn’t just a reflection on current attitudes here in the UK to the Catholic Church, but also, to a lesser extent, to Christianity in general. Christianity is seen as more and more of an irrelevance, while the rights of all other groups – non-Christian religious groups, gay rights groups, and so on – are treated with great respect, for fear of causing any kind of offence.

    It’s frustrating and annoying, but I must admit that I don’t know what the best response is to this – make a fuss about it and keep the insult in the public eye, or say nothing and risk being seen (again) as an easy target? I suppose that personally, I would have liked more vocal criticism of this from the English and Welsh bishops, but they have a difficult line to tread on this and I wouldn’t want to be in their position. With respect to the officials involved, stronger action would definitely be in order. The offence caused to the Holy Father himself, and also Catholics worldwide, is certainly a lot more serious than the “crime” of wearing a crucifix to work, or offering to pray for a sick person in hospital, for which the individuals in question have been dismissed.

  17. irishgirl says:

    MichaelJ-Exactly! What you said!

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