The Pope’s visit to Britain in September is in disarray, and the taxpayer shouldn't be expected to pick up the tab, says the UK’s outspoken National Secular Society.
The NSS has written to Foreign Secretary William Hague, urging him “not to pump any more taxpayers’ money into funding the Pope’s visit to Britain in September.”
The Catholic Church, says the NSS, “has grossly underestimated the costs of the religious elements of the trip, events which it has agreed to fund itself. The Catholic journalist Damian Thompson has revealed in the Spectator that the Church has revised the estimated cost of the pastoral elements of the visit from £7 million to £14 million. The article talks of scaling back the events.”
Some major venues have not yet been confirmed for the visit, says the NSS, including Coventry Airport and Hyde Park, London.
“All mention of Coventry Airport has now disappeared from the official site of the papal visit, and it has now been suggested that the beatification ceremony should [instead] be held in the grounds of St Mary’s Seminary in Oscott near Sutton Coldfield,” the NSS says in its Newsline e-zine and on its website.
It points out that the capacity of Oscott is 10,000, but at Coventry Airport it’s 200,000, suggesting that fewer people are now expected to attend the event, which is part of a state visit that has proved controversial in the UK since it was announced last year.
The Pope will not actually be attending the state banquet in his own honour at Lancaster House – the London mansion that is managed by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office – which is to be hosted by the Prime Minister, David Cameron.
The Spectator says: “A draft itinerary of his visit, seen by the Spectator, includes an audience with the Queen at Holyrood House, Edinburgh, and an 8.15 p.m. state banquet in his honour hosted by the Prime Minister at Lancaster House – which, bizarrely, the Pope is not expected to attend, presumably because, at 83, he might find it exhausting. The collection [to help fund the visit] at Catholic churches around the country last weekend was also a disaster, as the Gift Aid envelopes failed to arrive in many parishes in time for the collection.”
Damien Thompson says in this article that, while the Vatican is “reportedly defiant that there must be no scaling back”, it has not made any suggestion as to how the church will cope with the increased expected costs of the visit.
The president of the National Secular Society, Terry Sanderson, has now written to William Hague to say the taxpayer should not be made the scapegoat for the Church’s profligacy and inefficiency.
Sanderson’s published letter reads:
We are writing to ask that the taxpayer is not put in the position of having to pick up this deficit. The Catholic Church should be told that, if it wishes the visit to go ahead, it must make the same kind of sacrifices that the rest of the country must in the current financial climate.
In February the National Secular Society delivered a petition of 28,000 names to Downing Street. These names were collected in the space of three weeks, which gives some indication of the level of resentment at the public funding being allotted to this visit.
We have yet to be told how much the security for these events is going to cost the police services. If visits to other countries are anything to go by, these costs will far outweigh other expenditure.
We are strongly requesting that no further money be poured into this event. If the Church cannot afford to pay for these planned extravaganzas, then they must be cut back to a level that it can afford. It is not the British taxpayers duty to pick up the tab for an organisation that is, arguably, the most wealthy in the world.
Thompson’s Spectator article adds: “The Papal visit also coincides with much public indignation at the Church’s role in protecting paedophile priests. The authors Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens would like to see the Pope arrested for his role in covering up the abuse.”