The Vatican announced today that Pope Benedict XVI will visit Great Britain on September 16-19. “Accepting the invitation of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom, and of the bishops’ conferences of England and Wales, and of Scotland, His Holiness Benedict XVI will make an apostolic trip to the United Kingdom from 16 to 19 September,” the Pope’s spokesman, Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, said.
The theme chosen for the papal visit to England is “Heart Speaks Unto Heart,” Cardinal Newman’s motto.
According to Inside the Vatican magazine, following the pope’s arrival at Edinburgh airport on September 16, he will be driven to Holyrood Palace where he will be welcomed by Her Majesty the Queen. “He will then travel through the center of Edinburgh in the Popemobile, and the Scottish bishops are encouraging ‘as many people as possible’ to attend and line the Pope’s route and to attend the public Mass in Glasgow’s Bellahouston Park.”
Given the official welcome by the Queen, it is doubtful that the British government will permit the threatened legal action against the pope planned by the UK’s infamous village atheists, the Oxford biologist and town crank Richard Dawkins and U.S.-based journalist Christopher Hitchens.
The two men have allegedly been scheming for months — with the help of two British lawyers, Geoffrey Robertson and Mark Stephens — to have the Crown Prosecution Service arrest the pope for “crimes against humanity.”
Dawkins and Hitchens think that the can make a case against the pope for his alleged “cover-up” of sexual abuse in the Catholic church. They point to the arrest of Augusto Pinochet, the late Chilean dictator, when he visited Britain in 1998 as a example of taking action against foreign leaders.
Last year, Palestinian activists talked a British judge into issuing an arrest warrant for the Israeli politician Tzipi Livni during a visit to Britain.
“There is every possibility of legal action against the Pope occurring,” said lawyer Stephens. “Geoffrey and I have both come to the view that the Vatican is not actually a state in international law. It is not recognised by the UN, it does not have borders that are policed and its relations are not of a full diplomatic nature.”
It is doubtful that Hitchens, at least, will be on hand for the legal fireworks as he was recently diagnosed with cancer.