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'Vile' Pope condom document condemned

The minister spearheading the planning of the Pope's visit has described as "vile" and "insulting" a Foreign Office document suggesting Britain should mark the occasion by asking him to open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage and launch a range of Benedict-branded condoms.

Speaking during Sky's Scotland debate, Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy denounced the paper, stating: "It's absolutely despicable, these are vile, they're insulting, they are an embarrassment, and on behalf of I think the whole of the United Kingdom we'd want to apologise to his Holiness the Pope."

Former Conservative MP and Catholic convert Ann Widdecombe said: "I think it will add to already strained relations with the Vatican. It is severely embarrassing for Britain. I am sure both sides will be anxious to put it behind them.

"It is unbelievable this came in an official Foreign Office document that was circulated to Downing Street.

"It beggars belief and shows the mocking attitude there is towards Christianity."

The Foreign Office was forced to issue a detailed apology after the controversial papers came to public attention.

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 Bishop of Nottingham, the Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, told BBC News it reflected "appalling manners". He said: "I think it's a lot worse that we invite someone into our country - a person like the Pope - and then he's treated in this way. I think it's appalling manners more than anything else."

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".

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.

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