That memo against the Pope is no joke

Benedict XVI, his visit, and an aggressively secular mindset in Whitehall.

There is widespread confusion over the extraordinary Foreign Office "brainstorming" memo entitled "The ideal visit would see . . .", and it has caused huge diplomatic tensions between the UK and the Holy See, which have enjoyed unprecedentedly strong relations in recent years -- until now.

People think it is a joke. That is to say, that it was written as a joke. This is not surprising, given the range of suggestions, which include a form of contraception named after the Pope, the Pope opening an abortion clinic, and the Pope overseeing a homosexual wedding.

In fact, I am reliably told by a senior Whitehall source: "This was not written as a joke. It was meant to be a serious brainstorming by various people [and was] designed for a meeting. I know it is hard to believe, but it is serious."

In which case, the memo says more about the mindset of what one official calls the "aggressive secular fundamentalism" that is entrenched in the Foreign Office than it does about the papal visit, which, for all the Vatican's faults, remains a good thing.

Don't get me wrong. I deplore the sick culture of child abuse that has been unearthed in the Roman Catholic Church. And I will upset some Catholic friends by saying that I have some sympathy with the view that the Pope should show leadership, take overall responsibility and "resign" over the issue.

Even before that grotesque scandal was reported, I didn't have much time for a Pope who is into Gucci shoes and iPods.

However, much work has been put in by the British embassy in the Vatican -- and by ministers who should not be blamed -- to improve relations with the centre of a religion followed by millions. In an age when interfaith recognition is vital, that is very important work indeed.

That this memo has been setback, caused by the childish and frankly idiotic provocations of sniggering officials with too much time on their hands, is an embarrassment to Britain. Secularists should offer faiths the same freedom of thought that they hold so dear.

I will be returning to this subject.

UPDATE: A query I submitted to the Foreign Office about whether or not the document is a joke has not had a response (2 May).

 

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
Getty
Show Hide image

Join the New Statesman as our Head of Production

We're looking for a multitalented candidate to oversee our production process.

The New Statesman is going from strength to strength, and so we are creating a new role - head of production. See below for the job specifications, and apply by 12 noon on 12 May 2017 to helen @ newstatesman co uk. Please include a CV and tell us what you could bring to the New Statesman, and use the subject line: "Head of Production". Please indicate your current salary and notice period.

Head of production

This is a full-time senior role with management responsibilities. The head of production will be responsible for overseeing the New Statesman’s high editorial standards across all its products, including the magazine, website and digital editions. They will manage two part-time sub-editors.

The head of production will be responsible for co-ordinating the whole production team, ensuring that staff are working quickly, efficiently and as a team; that layouts are created as section editors require; and that pictures are added to pages in a timely fashion.

They will oversee the sub-editing and flow of copy and manage the production desk, and liaise with section editors on deadlines and proofing. The head of production will also be the point of contact with the printers throughout the working week.

They will be the hub of the production desk, taking a broad view of the magazine, website and digital editions and looking out for legal and ethical issues, and headline/advert/supplement clashes. They will be responsible for ensuring that all pages are sent to press by the print deadline, converting them to PDF if necessary. They will work with section editors to ensure that copy is error-free and presented with wit and intelligence through headlines, straplines and captions. (They will also be relaxed about "they" as a singular; after all, it's been used like that since the 14th century.) They will work with some of the best writers in the English language today, and make their copy sparkle on the page and screen.

As well as sub-editing skills, the head of production should have, or be willing to acquire, working knowledge of InDesign and PhotoShop, and the ability to navigate picture libraries. Some knowledge of web content management systems would be helpful. 

0800 7318496