Anger, apathy, ridicule: here comes the Pope
Benedict asks for prayers on the eve of his British visit - not a bad idea, the way things are looking
Doubtless there are members of the Roman Catholic Church waiting with bated breath for the arrival in Britain on Thursday of their leader on earth, Pope Benedict XVI. But the majority of British people, it appears, will greet the papal visit with apathy, anger and not a little ridicule.
At least the ridicule won't be as bad as it might have been.
Wayne Rooney, brought up a Catholic, will not be on hand for Benedict's meeting with schoolchildren on Friday. A Wayne-Benedict moment was under consideration by the Catholic bishops planning the four-day trip, but someone with extraordinary foresight canned the idea.
Nor will the Pope be meeting England football manager Fabio Capello or TV presenter Dec (Declan Donnelly) of Ant and Dec fame, both of whom are practising Catholics.
Neither was considered suitably heavyweight to mark such an historic occasion - the first papal state visit to Britain since Henry VIII broke with Rome in 1534. (Pope John Paul II's visit in 1982 was "purely pastoral" according to the Vatican and doesn't really count.)
Back to the ridicule. A pamphlet has been produced by the Papal Visit Team for those non-Catholics who might find themselves in close proximity to the papal entourage - police officers, broadcasters, rosary sellers - but who are unsure what all the funny words mean.
The pamphlet's handy glossary translates 'Benediction' as 'gig' and 'Blessed Sacrament' as 'bread and wine' and describes the Pope himself as 'a headline act'. The Mail on Sunday quoted a 'senior Catholic insider' as saying the pamphlet made him "cringe" with embarrassment while a Downing Street source said it had prompted "a rolling of eyes".
So much for the ridicule. The anger, of course, is mainly to do with Benedict's reluctance to respond to the various campaigns for compensation for victims of child abuse by Catholic priests.
Some of those victims, along with human rights activists and reform-minded Catholics, will be out in force to demonstrate against the Pope's visit.
Many of those reform-minded Catholics would also like the ultra-conservative Benedict to join the 21st century on such issues as celibacy and the ordination of women. Not a chance - only this summer, the Vatican ruled the latter "a crime against the faith".
Now, according to the Sunday Times, we can add to the list of the aggrieved the BBC TV licence-payers - in other words, everyone.
Director-General Mark Thompson, who is said to be even more devout a Catholic than Wayne or Dec - possibly even Fabio - has reportedly ordered wall-to-wall coverage of the papal visit, involving an estimated 300 to 400 corporation personnel.
This is despite the fact that most of the live coverage will be shown while people are at work - and despite continued carping in Tory circles at the Beeb's excessive staffing of similar big-ticket events.
The taxpayer has reason to be upset, too. It turns out that as many as 30 Vatican officials travelling in the Pope's entourage are to be put up - at our expense - at the Goring Hotel in Belgravia where the cheapest room is £370 a night. They are also to be given £150-a-day 'walking around money' - again, at taxpayers' expense.
Finally, the apathy. A poll conducted on behalf of the theology think tank Theos gives the Vatican scant encouragement that the Pope's British 'gig' will be a hit.
The survey found that 79 per cent of respondents had "no personal interest" in the papal visit and 77 per cent felt there was no reason why taxpayers should fork out for the cost of it, even though Benedict was invited.
Little wonder the Pope has asked the faithful to pray for him on his trip to Britain. "I ask you all to accompany me with your prayers in this apostolic voyage," he told pilgrims visiting Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence south of Rome, at the weekend. ·
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