LONDON (Reuters) - Campaigners planning to stage demonstrations during Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain should show restraint, the prime minister’s special representative for the papal visit, Chris Patten, said on Monday.
Various protests are expected during the first papal state visit to the country in September, including by secularists, gay rights groups and those angry at the child-abuse scandal which has spread throughout the Roman Catholic church globally.
But Patten, a former Conservative minister and governor of Hong Kong, who was appointed by Prime Minister David Cameron to help coordinate the four-day visit, said demonstrators should be free to express their opinions, but should not fall into the trap of intolerance.
“I hope that (the protests) will be done with restraint, and that it will be done with a show of tolerance,” he told Reuters.
“It would be an extraordinary irony if those who polemicise past intolerance by churches are to become themselves the proponents of intolerance towards churches.”
The trip, from September 16 to 19, will be the first papal visit since Pope John Paul II’s pastoral visit in 1982 and the first state visit by a pope to Britain.
Pope John Paul’s visit was pastoral largely because it coincided with the Falklands war between Britain and Argentina.
Although Britain’s child abuse cases were dealt with largely in the late 1990s, followed by sweeping reforms to the Catholic church’s child protection system in England and Wales as well as Scotland, some groups plan to demonstrate against the church’s failure to tackle the issue globally.
British author and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins has said he will try to have Pope Benedict arrested to face questions over the matter.
Gay activists are planning protests against the church’s attitude on homosexuality, while secularists intend to complain at the cost of the visit to the British taxpayer.
On Monday, Patten told reporters the public cost was likely to rise by up to 50 percent to 10-to-12 million pounds, excluding security, because initial estimates had underestimated the “complexity” of the trip.
The church’s costs are to be more than 7 million pounds.
“It is much more difficult than most, than any, state visit that I can think of not least because of the amount of exposure the pope gets to the public,” Patten told Reuters.
The former European Commissioner admitted Britain’s parliamentary election on May 6 had created a planning hiatus, but denied he had inherited a shambles from the outgoing Labour party, as had been suggested in some of the media.
The trip has had its hiccups though, including an apology from the Foreign Office after a civil servant memo was leaked suggesting the pope open a hospital abortion ward, bless a gay marriage and launch a papal-branded condom during his visit.
“They behaved like offensive idiots,” Patten said, referring to the civil servants who have since been disciplined.
Any tensions between the Catholic Church and Church of England, the Anglican mother church, would not be an issue during meetings, Patten, who is Catholic, said, despite the pope making it easier for disaffected Anglo-Catholics to convert.
The pope is due to meet the queen, head of the CoE, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, its spiritual head.
“I don’t think these are moments for playing out tensions,” Patten said.
Editing by Michael Roddy