This story is undoubtedly an embarrassment for the British 'do no evil'(*) Labour government. The whole point of 'brain-storming' sessions is that ANY and EVERY idea may be aired, however bizarre it might be. But in normal groups (and certainly in most private companies that I am aware of) the ones that are completely off-the-wall are briefly discussed and then dismissed and forgotten about - they certainly don't appear in the minutes of such meetings! Evidently in the public sector, which we all pay for through our taxes, things are different; no-one seems to stop and think what they are doing and what they are trying to achieve. 'Evaluation' did not seem to form any part of this particular Foreign office exercise in 'diplomacy'.
Now that is my assessment of this deplorable lapse from a management point of view. It is yet one more sign of how useless Labour is at managing anything, let alone planning for the visit of what is technically the Head of State of a foreign 'country'.
Having written all this though, I do find it difficult in this particular instance to become too exercised about the Foreign Office lapse. The Catholic Church has become an increasiingly ridiculous organisation in recent years; it preaches certain moral codes to its adherents and to the world generally, then proceeds to cover-up for the criminal behaviour of its 'paid agents' (i.e. priests) in many of the countries of the world where it operates; it is only the vociferous action taken in many countries to expose the 'paedophile' behaviour of priests by victims and the civil authorities that has forced the Church, finally, to begin to address the cancer at its heart. That action, in the case of the US, backed up by justifiedly swingeing financial penalties. The Church is, when it comes to the essentials, as interested as any other party in protecting its 'patrimony' and the financial costs of allowing its miscreant behaviour to continue have had to be made too severe for it to contemplate allowing them to be perpetuated - as it had tried, for decades, to do.
A number of the suggestions in the Foreign Office document, whilst completely unacceptable in the context of a Papal visit, neatly highlight the contraditions and just plain 'wrongness' of a number of the policy stances of the Roman Catholic church:
- celibacy for its 'paid agents' (aka priests), with no outlet for the sexual urges of some of these people. There may well be many priests (and nuns) who are capable of channelling these desires into their lives of devotion to their faith, but it seems than more than a few have failed to live up to the standards expected, over decades and probably centuries, although we will probably never know about cases beyond living memory in the majority of cases;
- suggesting a 'Benedict' brand of condoms is quite funny, but it neatly highlights the monstrous banning by the Church of abortions or birth control methods, including condoms, even in cases of rape or to aid in the prevention of disease transmission. Truly evil policies.
As for suggesting that Pope Benedict should be invited to bless some civil partnerships during his visit, well this is just ridiculous of course, but it does again highlight just how out of touch the policy of the Church is. The suggestion was of course particularly offensive, and presumably designed to be so ('as a joke'), but of course the Church's policies on matters relating to homosexuality are not only outdated, but singularly offensive to millions of British and other gay and lesbian citizems of various countries, including me.
To summarise my whole attitude toward the forthcoming Papal visit, conditions should be arranged such that this visit may occur without undue incident and for those who wish to take part in the various gatherings that will be organised during his visit to do so in safety. So far as I am concerned that is the extent of the government's responsiblity. I certainly do not want our government to acquiesce in deed or word to any of the Catholic Church's teachings which offend against our laws and I do not want it to remain silent should the Pontiff criticise our laws whilst he is actually on British soil; he will be an 'honoured' guest here, but that gives him no special right to intervene in our domestic affairs - we certainly would not tolerate any other foreign Head of State (i.e. American or French, to take two random examples) making negative comments about our laws whilst on a visit here and I don't think an exception should be made for the Pope. The government's first responsibility is to its own citizens (including of course those who adhere to this particular faith, provided such adherence does not offend agasinst the legal rights of other citizens). If the Pope behaves himself whilst here, then he should of course be treated with courtesy, but certainly under no circumstance with 'adulation' at an official level and he should be told firmly that any criticism he makes of our domestic laws whilst he is here will not be tolerated. Any adulation that may be shown should be limited to fellow-adherents of his faith.
There is an excellent French saying which neatly encapsulates my attitude toward this Papal visit: "Faites comme si vous êtes chez vous, mais n'oubliez pas que vous êtes chez moi." ("Treat this country as if if were your own home when here, but don't forget you are [in fact] in my home.")
(*) - irony alert.