Church denies pope payments will dampen British visit

31st August 2010, Comments 0 comments

The Catholic leader of England and Wales denied Tuesday that asking the faithful to pay a contribution to see the pope when he visits Britain next month would "dampen enthusiasm" for the trip.

"I don't think it will dampen enthusiasm at all. I'm confident there will be large crowds," Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic church in England and Wales, told reporters in London.

He repeated his denial that the contributions -- ranging from five pounds (7.7 dollars, six euros) for a vigil in London and 25 pounds for an open-air mass in Birmingham -- were akin to charging an entrance fee to see the pope.

"Those contributions only cover the costs of the transport and the security provisions," the archbishop said, adding: "It includes their travel so it's not as if it is a payment to go to mass."

People attending the various events also receive a "pilgrim pack" which includes a CD and booklet about the pope's visit, he said.

Pope Benedict XVI is holding an open-air mass near Glasgow on the first day of his state visit to Britain on September 16 and will hold a prayer vigil in London's Hyde Park on September 18.

He will also celebrate the beatification of Cardinal John Henry Newman -- a 19th century cleric who converted to Catholicism from the Church of England -- at a mass in Birmingham, central England, on September 19, before flying home.

The costs of the papal visit to Britain, where only 10 percent of the population are Catholic, has caused concern in some quarters as the country struggles with huge spending cuts designed to pay off a record budget deficit.

Chris Patten, who is organising the visit on behalf of the government, confirmed the cost to the taxpayer would be between 10 and 12 million pounds, a significant increase on the eight million that was originally envisaged.

The Catholic church will also be contributing "in the region of nine to ten million pounds", Nichols said, of which six million had already been raised.

Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain is only the second since English King Henry VIII broke with the church in Rome in 1534. Pope Jean Paul II visited in 1982, although his was a pastoral visit, rather than a state visit.

© 2010 AFP

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