Cardinal won't travel with pope after 'Third World' remark

15th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

A top prelate who likened Britain to a Third World country will not accompany the pope to Scotland and England, the Vatican said Wednesday.

Cardinal Walter Kasper was to have been part of the pope's entourage but begged off for "health reasons," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement after British press reports said Kasper had been dropped from the trip starting Thursday.

In an interview with the German magazine Focus, the cardinal was asked why so many Britons opposed Pope Benedict XVI's visit, and he replied: "England is a secularised, pluralistic country these days. When you land at Heathrow Airport, you sometimes think you might have landed in a Third World country."

"The opinions of Cardinal Kasper have no negative intent or dislike for the United Kingdom," Lombardi's statement said of the remarks published Monday.

The remark was intended to "refer to the fact that arriving at the London aiport ... you realise that from the start you are in a country where so many human realities of the most diverse origins and conditions come together," Lombardi said.

Kasper, the Vatican's former pointman for ecumenism, also said he felt Christians were discriminated against in Britain.

"In England in particular, an aggressive neo-atheism has spread," Kasper told Focus. "If you wear a crucifix at British Airways, for example, you are discriminated against."

He was referring to a disciplinary measure that the airline took in 2006 against an employee who refused to conceal a cross pendant under her uniform.

The Vatican denied any link between the interview and Kasper's decision not to take part in the trip. "They are two completely different things," Lombardi told AFP by telephone.

Lombardi's written statement said Kasper had "informed his superiors that he could not take part in the trip for health reasons."

Kasper, 77, is the president emeritus of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, the body he headed from 2001 until earlier this year.

The cardinal also told Focus the pope aimed to work on healing the rift between the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Communion during his stay in Britain.

On just the second visit by a pope to Britain since English king Henry VIII broke with the Church of Rome in 1534, the Vatican hopes to ease strains caused by its offer last year to take in dissident Anglicans angered by their church's move to consecrate female bishops.

© 2010 AFP

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