Britain's new government has been caught in an unexpected political crisis as the pope's visit approaches. The Guardian reported Sunday that the speech of Benedict XVI in Parliament will take place on Yom Kippur, which has attracted criticism from the Jewish community and its supporters.
The leader of the Catholic Church will arrive in London in September and is expected to remain in the UK for four days. The jewel in the crown is to be an historic speech before the British Parliament on September 17. The visit already drew criticism in the mainly Anglican kingdom, but the date of the speech has added the Jewish voice to this criticism.
The pope speaking to a young crowd Saturday (Photo: AFP)
Speaker of the House of Lords Baroness Helen Hayman is among members of Parliament seeking to change the date of the speech to enable Jewish leaders, including the UK's chief rabbi, to attend. Sources in the Foreign Office said that the pro-Jewish group would not be satisfied if the speech was moved forward by a few hours because they need time to prepare for the start of the holy day.
"Sunset on the 17th is Yom Kippur. All that means is the event in Westminster Hall needs to finish in time for Jewish representatives to return home," a spokesperson for the Conservative government said. "That's always been planned for. There's no argument around that. The church and parliamentary authorities have agreed the timing on the day."
The current pope has a murky history in his relationship with Jews since he stepped into the shoes of his predecessor, Pope John Paul II. During the last five years he was criticized for his attempts to canonize Pius XII, who led the Catholic Church at the time of the Holocaust, and his decision to accept a Holocaust-denying bishop back into the Church, as well as his initiative to reintroduce the "prayer for Jews" into Church liturgy.
In recent weeks, debate has raged in the lead-up to the pope's visit, and it seems Benedict XVI can expect drama: Two prominent atheist activists have threatened to have him arrested for his part in the Catholic pedophile scandals, while the BBC network is preparing a television program enacting a trial for the pope.
It has also been revealed that officials at the Foreign Office have formulated a document proposing that the pope open an abortion clinic, give his blessing to single-sex marriage and launch a condom line.