Henry Bellingham, (Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Africa and the United Nations), Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made a statement last week about the expenses incurred by the taxpayer as a result of Pope Ratzinger’s visit to the United Kingdom.
This was just a four-day visit and was promulgated as not-only as a visit by a religious leader but because the Vatican styles itself as a sovereign state, the holy junket doubled as a State Visit. That meant the men in frocks not-only delivered a bit of spiritual sustenance to the clamouring flock but broke bread in the company of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth.
For hundreds of years, Popes have lived in the gilded Renaissance splendour of the Apostolic Palace. They don’t immerse themselves in the daily travails of their “subjects” so they become strangers to both earthly humility and the economic limitations known to their flock – until the very end – when they are buried.
Only then does it dawn on the Catholic church that the faithful need to be reminded of the Pope’s humanity. Consequently, he is placed in a simple cedarwood coffin. The coffin of a humble artisan. That modest box which always manages to look so incongruous when it’s the focal point of the memorial service within the breathtaking majesty of St Peter’s Basilica. Much like the incongruity of old men in gold-threaded dresses telling us about a modest and poor Jesus who was sent “to save us” through the bizarre medium of the triple whammy: self-sacrifice, death and resurrection.
By the time our present pope lies in state, he will have completed his last costume change , been eased into his last designer dress , tilted his last handmade pope-chapeau and struck his last vaingloriously holy- heroic stance. The only real reminder of his primped popegotism will be a pair of immaculate red leather papal slippers. The peacockery will truly be over.
Pope Ratz will have lived the life – not of a humble shepherd or carpenter – but that of a full-on Rock Star. That is the spirit in which he met his British groupies (known collectively as CATHOLICS) when he flew in on the Popejet last year.
So what about the numbers for this four-day visit?
The total cost was in excess of £9 million, one third of which was towards media facilities. The cost of the aforementioned munch-out with the Queen was over £66,000 with a low-key supper with the Foreign Secretary coming in at a parsimonious £19,000.
The Taxpayer contributed £1.67 million for the open air beatification mass which honoured Cardinal Newman – after the required miracle had finally been identified.
An American trainee deaconnamed Sullivan who suffered from Stenosis, says that his condition was cured after he offered up a prayer to Cardinal Newman. (Coincidentally, Pope Jean-Paul ll was beatified after a French nun was cured of Parkinson’s disease after she had prayed to him).
The Catholics (and God) truly do look after their own.
The full cost of Cardinal Newman’s Birmingham beatification was well over £4 million but the balance was picked up by the church.
In spite of the Popemobile (transportation costs £34,000) and security, insurance premiums added-up to nearly £147,000. Although police and security costs were provided from existing budgets, the Metropolitan force forked-out £300,000 more than had been budgeted-for.
Airport costs were £60,000 and official baggage cost £34,500 to transport.
The pope’s entourage accumulated hotel, minibar and other accommodation costs of £17,500
The £6.98 million costs of the state elements are being met by the public purse with the Catholic Church asked to reimburse the taxpayer by £6.35million for pastoral events.
Direct costs already met by UK Catholic churches are estimated at around £3.8million.
An estimated 500,000 people attended events during the pope’s four-day visit – but was it all worth it?
As a Public Relations exercise, it was worth a fortune to the Vatican because in spite of Richard Dawkins’ attempt to portray Pope Ratz as a cross-dressing baby-eating monster, the pontiff’s image was boosted.
He left the UK as everyone’s favourite uncle – after having arrived as a paedophile-harbouring Nazi Panto dame.
The Pope and his entourage could never understand the caricature that is the German accent – that is only for those with English as their first language. So, when Ratz addressed the great and good in Westminster Hall -in English – we were all waiting for the inevitable: ” Your Papers pleess!”….but sadly, it never came and even for us godless ones, he came across as a gently-spoken gentle-man.
There is little doubt that much of what the public saw was staged and the work of a good PR team. In other words, it was largely a fiction.
Purely on that basis, the Catholic church showed great consistency as its politics, pronouncements, ambiguities, image and beliefs all have that smoke-and-mirrors quality which – even after such a sumptuously bravura performance – paints Pope Ratz as a puzzle – a compelling but somehow emotionally-sterile enigma.