The astonishing proposals, leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, were contained in secret papers drawn up earlier this month by civil servants following a 'brainstorm’.
The ideas, included in a memo headed 'The ideal visit would see ...’, ridiculed the Catholic Church’s teachings including its opposition to abortion, homosexual behaviour and contraception. Many appeared to be deliberately provocative rather than a serious attempt to plan an itinerary for the September visit.
The proposals, which were then circulated among key officials in Downing Street and Whitehall, also include the Pope opening an abortion ward; spending the night in a council flat in Bradford; doing forward rolls with children to promote healthy living; and even performing a duet with the Queen.
In reference to the hugely sensitive issue of child abuse engulfing the Catholic Church, the Government document suggests that the Pope should take a “harder line on child abuse – announce sacking of dodgy bishops” and “launch helpline for abused children”.
The document was sent out by a junior Foreign Office civil servant with a covering note admitting that some of the plans were “far-fetched”.
Recipients of the memo were furious at its content and an investigation was launched. One senior official was found responsible and has been transferred to other duties.
Yesterday the Foreign Office issued a public apology after being approached by The Sunday Telegraph, while Francis Campbell, the UK ambassador to the Vatican, met senior officials of the Holy See to express the Government’s regret.
David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, was “appalled” to hear of the proposals, according to a source close to him, and blamed “a colossal failure of judgement” by officials involved.
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.
“The text was not cleared or shown to Ministers or senior officials before circulation. As soon as senior officials became aware of the document, it was withdrawn from circulation.
“The individual responsible has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgement and has accepted this view.
“The Foreign Office very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offence which it has caused.
The Rt Rev Malcolm McMahon, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Nottingham, was astonished and angered by the proposals.
He said: “This is appalling. You don’t invite someone to your country and then disrespect them in this way.
“It’s outlandish and outrageous to assume that any of the ideas are in any way suitable for the Pope.”
The Papal Visit Team reports to Dame Helen Ghosh, the permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and ultimately to Jim Murphy, the Scotland Secretary, who is responsible for the trip.
The "ideal visit" list was circulated within Whitehall by a junior Foreign Office official, an Oxbridge graduate in his 20s.
In an emailed memo dated March 5, headed "Policy planning ahead of the Pope’s visit", he invited senior colleagues to attend an "inter-faith meeting" the following week to discuss themes for the visit.
Attached to the memo were three "background documents", including the "ideal visit" list, which he said would form the basis of discussions. He added in the memo: "Please protect; these should not be shared externally. The ‘ideal visit’ paper in particular was the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas."
Recipients included Nicola Ware, a senior Foreign Office official, as well as officials at 10 Downing Street, the Department for International Development, and the Northern Ireland Office.
The exercise appears to have been intended to ensure a high impact for the papal visit and to identify areas such as development and climate change on which the Government and the Vatican could co-operate, but the list of ideas has caused offence.
Bishop McMahon said Catholics would be concerned that the document reflects the existence within Whitehall of officials prejudiced against people of faith, and predicted that it would cause embarrassment for the Government. The Prime Minister said in last week’s party leaders’ debate that he was looking forward to the papal visit, but ministers have clashed repeatedly with the Catholic Church over legislation.
There is understood to be increasing unease at the Vatican over the level of hostility that the Pope is likely to face in Britain, with protests and even threats of arrest from secularists. The disclosure of the secret proposals is bound to deepen concerns and cause dismay among the country’s four million Catholics.
Further suggestions on the "ideal visit" list are that the Pope should reverse the Church’s "policy on women bishops/ordain woman" and that the Vatican should "sponsor a network of Aids clinics".
Another of the three background documents, titled "Papal Visit Stakeholders", lists figures and groups that the officials consider significant to the tour, and ranks them in order of how "influential" and "positive" each one is perceived to be.
The Queen, David Cameron, and Tony Blair are all ranked as highly influential and positive. It rates Susan Boyle, the singer, as more influential than Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster.
Wayne Rooney, the footballer, who was married in a Catholic Church, is considered to be a negative influence, as are Madonna, the singer, and Richard Dawkins, the prominent atheist professor. "Pro-choice groups", homosexual pressure groups and the National Secular Society are all viewed as negative.
Britain's Foreign Office issued a hasty apology Sunday to Pope Benedict XVI after publication of an internal memo in which officials joked he could open an abortion clinic, launch a range of condoms or sing a duet with Queen Elizabeth II during a four-day visit in September
"This is clearly a foolish document that does not in any way reflect UK government or FCO policy or views," a spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said in response to the memo's publication. "Many of the ideas in the document are clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful."
In The Sunday Times online we report that the Pope's advisers are starting to regret he ever accepted the invitation to come to Britain in September
Some senior Catholics in Britain attempted to downplay its significance but The Times has learnt that the document has caused enormous anger in Rome. It is regarded as just the latest, but by far the most serious, in a series of anti-Catholic episodes emanating from the UK