The history of the UK, from Henry VIII onwards, meant that the Pope's visit was always going to need delicate handling on all sides. The Catholic Church have obviously worried that Benedict XVI's visit would not - in the current climate - achieve the kind of success which Pope John Paul II achieved in the eighties.
So, it doesn't help that one of his aides - Cardinal Walter Kasper - has, shortly before Benedict sets foot in Britain, said that landing in the UK is like landing "in a third-world country"; nor does it help that he has said that the British suffer from "an aggressive new atheism".
It's hardly the start one would expect to what was always going to be a contentious visit. Especially as this is the first time the Pope has ever visited Britain has a head of state, which mean that the Brits are picking up a fairly hefty part of the bill.
The cardinal's remarks, made hours before the papal party was due to land in Edinburgh this morning, came in an interview with the German news magazine Focus, in which he noted that Britain was a "secular, pluralistic" country.
Asked by the magazine whether Christians were discriminated against in the UK, Kasper replied: "Yes. Above all, an aggressive new atheism has spread through Britain. If, for example, you wear a cross on British Airways, you are discriminated against."
Kasper appears to have been referring to events in 2006, when BA was embroiled in a bitter row after taking disciplinary action against an airport worker who refused to cover up a necklace carrying a cross which she wore outside her uniform.
The cardinal's comments on "aggressive" atheism drew an angry response from secular campaigners who said the UK did not need a "lecture" on religious freedom and belief from the Vatican – but were welcomed by some Christians.
Even that last comment by Lombardi, which claims that those atheists who speak out, "do not in fact have the value they show off" strikes me as quite aggressive.
The pope's spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, said tonight that the cardinal "had no negative intention, nor [a] lesser appreciation for the United Kingdom", but had been referring to Britain's multi-ethnic composition. He said the pope's former adviser recognised "the great values of British culture".
In a statement, Lombardi said Kasper "had meant to refer to the fact that from the moment of arrival in London airport – as happens in many big metropolises of the world today, but in London particularly because the unique role played over time by the UK's capital – you realise from the outset that you are in a country in which many human realities of the most diverse provenances and conditions meet and mingle; a crucible of today's humanity, with its diversity and problems".
Lombardi added that, in speaking about atheism, the cardinal "was obviously referring to the positions of certain well-known authors who put themselves forward particularly aggressively and dress themselves up in scientific and cultural arguments, but who do not in fact have the value they show off".
This is really not the start to this visit that I was expecting. Nor is it the start that the Catholic church in England and Wales were expecting from the speed with which they have sought to distance themselves from these remarks. They have said that these views "do not represent the views of the Vatican, nor those of bishops in this country".
"Clearly they are personal views … Catholics play a full part in this country's life and welcome the rich diversity of thought, culture and people so evident here. This visit marks a further development of the good relationship between the United Kingdom and the Holy See. We are confident that it will be a huge success."Cardinal Walter Kasper has withdrawn from this Papal visit and has chosen to remain in Rome "for health reasons".
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