Britain used foreign aid money for pope's visit

3rd February 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain used £1.85 million ($3 million, 2.2 million euros) from its foreign aid budget to help pay for the pope's state visit last year, lawmakers revealed Thursday.

A parliamentary committee unveiled the "somewhat surprising" use of the money in a report analysing the annual accounts of the Department for International Development (DfID).

A DfID spokesman defended the move, saying that the contribution recognised the Catholic Church's work in development and in any case was taken from a separate budget to official development assistance.

However, the National Secular Society said the use of foreign aid money was "disgraceful" and accused the pope of taking food from the mouths of the world's poor "in order to ride around in purpose built cars".

The money represents a significant chunk of the British government's costs for the trip, which were estimated in November to be about £10 million. The remainder was met by the Catholic Church.

"Many people will be as surprised as we were to discover that UK aid money was used to fund the pope's visit last year," said Malcolm Bruce, the member of parliament who chairs the international development committee.

"Ministers need to explain exactly what this was spent on and how it tallies with our commitments on overseas aid."

Benedict XVI's four-day trip in September was the first ever state visit to Britain by the leader of the Roman Catholic Church and the first papal visit to the predominantly Anglican country since John Paul II came in 1982.

Overseas aid has been exempted from sweeping cuts designed to slash a record budget deficit, but it is under increasing scrutiny.

In response to the lawmakers' report, a DfID spokesman said: "DfID was one of a number of government departments part funding the pope's visit to the UK.

"Our contribution recognised the Catholic Church's role as a major provider of health and education services in developing countries.

"This money does not constitute official development assistance and is therefore additional to the coalition government's historic commitment to meet the 0.7 percent (of GDP) UN aid target from 2013."

National Secular Society president Terry Sanderson said: "The use of foreign aid money to help one of the wealthiest organisations in the world to aggrandise itself in this way is disgraceful.

"The pope has taken food, medicine and safe drinking water away from some of the poorest people in the world in order ride around in purpose built cars and drain money from hard-pressed police authorities and local councils.

"It seems there is no end to the Vatican's greed."

© 2011 AFP

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