Foreign Office apology after staff fools mock the Pope

The Foreign Office was forced to issue a public apology after an official document suggested Britain should mark the Pope's visit this year by asking him to open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage and launch a range of Benedict-branded condoms.

The document, obtained by the Sunday Telegraph, also suggested Benedict XVI could show his hard line on the sensitive issue of child abuse allegations against Roman Catholic priests by "sacking dodgy bishops" and launching a helpline for abused children.

The ideas were included in a paper titled "The ideal visit would see..." which was distributed to officials in Whitehall and Downing Street preparing for the historic visit in September. A cover note said the paper stemmed from a brainstorming session and accepted that some of the ideas were "far-fetched".

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Many of the proposals appeared to mock the teachings of the Roman Catholic Church on issues like abortion, homosexuality and contraception and the difficulties which it is currently experiencing over cases of child abuse.

Last night, the Foreign Office apologised and said the individual responsible had been transferred to other duties.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband was said to have been "appalled" to hear of the paper, and Britain's Ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, met senior officials of the Holy See to express the Government's regret.

The Foreign Office confirmed that the memo was drawn up by a small group of three or four junior staff in a team working on the papal visit. The document was withdrawn after it was circulated to more senior staff.

A spokesman said the Foreign Office approached the Vatican and the Catholic Church in England on Saturday when it became apparent that its contents had become public.

The memo also suggested that the Pope could apologise for the Spanish Armada or sing a song with the Queen for charity.

And it listed "positive" people who could be attached to the trip, including Tony Blair and TV talent show contestant Susan Boyle, along with others considered "negative", including footballer Wayne Rooney and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins.

A Foreign Office spokesman said: "This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK Government or Foreign Office policy or views. Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful."

Prominent Cardinal Renato Martino told the Mail on Sunday: "The British Government

has invited the Pope as its guest and he should be treated with respect.

"To make a mockery of his beliefs and the beliefs of millions of Catholics, not just in Britain but across the world, is very offensive indeed."