Pope's UK visit in chaos as costs spiral
Published 03/06/2010 | 05:00
The Pope's historic visit to Britain is in disarray as the costs spiral and doubts increase over the schedule.
The proportion of the bill that must be paid by the Catholic Church is being put at as much as £14m (€16.7m) -- twice the earlier estimate. It could lead to events being scaled down or cancelled.
The British government has not yet appointed a minister to coordinate the first-ever papal state visit to the country. A new team of civil servants had to be assembled after outrage over a leaked memo suggesting that Pope Benedict XVI launch a range of condoms or open an abortion clinic.
Preparations were also affected by the ill health of Archbishop Faustino Sainz Munoz, the Pope's ambassador to Britain, who had a stroke last month. One senior figure who attended a meeting of the church's organising committee was heard to say of the visit: "It's like buying a ticket for the Titanic."
The visit, scheduled to take place between September 16 and 19, was brokered by Gordon Brown when he was prime minister. The British government was to spend £15m (€18m) on the state events, such as a reception by the Queen at Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh, even before policing costs were added.
Security will be tight because of expected protests by high-profile opponents of the Vatican such as Peter Tatchell, the veteran gay rights campaigner; Richard Dawkins, the atheist author who wants the Pope arrested; and support groups for victims of clergy sex abuse.
The issue of who is financing the visit has been complicated by the involvement of local councils at a time when budgets are being cut. At last week's church meeting the cost was said to have doubled to £14m.
There is talk of downgrading the pinnacle of the visit, the beatification of Cardinal Newman before 200,000 pilgrims at Coventry Airport, to an event attended by 10,000 at a seminary in Birmingham.
A public prayer vigil, which was to be the highlight of the London leg of the trip, was due to take place in Hyde Park, but the Royal Parks said no such event had been booked.
The church has tried to manage expectations by telling Britain's five million Catholics that they would be able to follow a "virtual visit" online.
Wealthy Catholics, including leading businessmen, are being asked individually to help meet the funds shortfall. (© Daily Telegraph, London)