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Britons say taxpayer should not fund Pope's visit

More than 75 per cent of Britons think the taxpayer should not contribute to the cost of Pope Benedict XVI's forthcoming visit to Scotland and England, according to a survey published today.

An online poll of 2,005 adults has shown 77% do not agree that the taxpayer should help shoulder the bill for the four-day trip even though it is a state visit.

A similar proportion - 76% - rejected taxpayer funding for the visit on the grounds that he is a religious figure.

The findings were issued by Theos, the public theology think tank, as the Pope is due to arrive in Edinburgh on September 16, the first Papal visit to Britain since Pope John Paul II's 1982 trip.

The survey, conducted in August, shows widespread apathy in Britain towards 83-year-old Pope Benedict's arrival with 79% saying they have "no personal interest" in his visit.

Nearly one in four - 24% - agreed with the statement "I don't approve of the Pope's visit to Britain" with just under a half, or 49%, disagreeing.

Under a third, or 29%, said they believed the visit would be good for Britain while 33% disagreed.

The poll findings come after it was announced earlier this year that the Government costs of the trip - previously estimated at £8 million - could rise to between £10 million and £12 million.

In addition, the Catholic Church is expected to make a contribution of between £9 million and £10 million towards the costs.

The figures do not include an expected multi-million pound bill for policing the visit.

Researchers also put 12 statements - taken without naming the source - from the Pope's third encyclical letter on global development and the common good, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) to people taking part in the survey.

A majority backed 11 out of the 12 extracts from the encyclical, including 82% agreeing with the statement "technologically advanced societies can and must lower their domestic energy consumption".

There was also a majority, or 79%, in agreement with the Pope's statement "the natural environment is more than raw material to be manipulated at our pleasure".

The survey further showed 63% agreeing that "investment always has moral, as well as economic significance" with 69% agreeing that "the consumer has a specific social responsibility."

A majority disagreed with the statement: "Poverty is often produced by a rejection of God's love."

Paul Wolley, director of Theos, said: "The British public clearly has a problem with the funding of the papal visit, although this could be because they are unaware that in addition to being a religious leader Pope Benedict is also a head of state."

He said only a relatively small proportion of people were actively opposed to the visit and the public was disengaged rather than hostile.

Mr Wolley said it was also striking that the public agreed so strongly with Pope Benedict's social teaching, adding that it showed "real potential for the church to connect with the public".

Andrew Copson, a spokesman for Protest the Pope and chief executive of the British Humanist Association, said: ""It is hardly news that a lot of people in Britain care about the environment, social responsibility and human rights - these are important shared values for religious and non-religious people alike in this country and we don't need religious leaders to teach them to us.

"The Protest the Pope campaign is not against the Pope coming to the UK as a religious leader, with the religious organisation of which he is the head footing the bill.

"Our opposition is to the visit being a state visit, with the British people footing the bill. This poll makes clear that most people agree with us."

But Eileen Cole, of the group Catholic Voices, said the Pope had been invited by the Queen and her Government to speak to the public, not just Catholics, because he has some "very clear, pertinent and wise" messages for society.

"The poll results show that people want to hear what he has to say, and I would add I think it will be worth every penny," she said.

Chris Serpell, also of Catholic Voices, said the results of the poll gave a "very promising" outlook for the Papal visit.

"They highlight a great deal of overlap between the moral outlook of the Catholic Church and that of the population of the UK."

He said the findings revealed public knowledge of the activities and teaching of the Catholic Church was limited.

"Catholic agencies are - on a global scale - providing vital healthcare and education, working to overcome poverty and restore justice, preserving the environment, and encouraging true respect for human life at every stage."

A Government spokesman said: "The Holy See is an internationally-recognised nation with significant influence across the world, while the Catholic Church has a billion adherents.

"The Pope is visiting at the invitation of the Queen. It is right and proper that the British Government should pay a share of the costs of the visit."

Belfast Telegraph


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