Joke e-mail about Pope backfires on Foreign Office

Pope Benedict

Pope Benedict

The Foreign Office issued an apology to Pope Benedict today, (Sunday)  after an internal memo was published in a national newspaper,  in which officials joked that the Holy Father could open an abortion clinic, bless a gay marriage, launch a range of condoms, sing a duet with the Queen and launch  hotlines for abuse victims,  and to honour abuse whistleblowers.

The memo is said to have been written by a 23 year-old graduate, after a brainstorming session on ideas for the papal visit to Britain in September.

Describing the proposals as "ill-judged, naive and disrespectful" an official statement tonight said: "The Foreign Office very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offense which it has caused. We strongly value the close and productive relationship between the UK government and the Holy See and look forward to deepening this further with the visit of Pope Benedict to the UK."

Britain's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell,  has met senior Vatican officials to offer a formal apology.  One person involved in drafting the memo has been transferred to other duties, the ministry said.

Fr Federico Lombardi, head of the Vatican's press office confirmed that an apology from Britain had been received through the Holy See's embassy. "They supplied all the explanations, and there is nothing to add," Lombardi said.

Jack Valero, from Catholic Voices, brushed the incident aside  saying: "I think it is a joke that has gone wrong – light relief out of control. I think Catholics will just take it like this – they'll think about it today and then forget about it. In the Catholic Church we are used to forgiveness – it's part of our culture."