Pope's Scots visit condemned as 'offensive'

A SCOTTISH Church has attacked the Pope's forthcoming tour of Britain, describing the decision to bestow state visit status on the occasion as "particularly offensive".

• Pope Benedict XVI plans to celebrate Mass at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow. Picture: Getty

The attack from the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland came as it was confirmed Pope Benedict XVI will celebrate an open-air mass at Glasgow's Bellahouston Park in September during his first visit to Scotland.

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The venue for the ceremony was confirmed after a meeting between Glasgow City Council and the Bishops' Conference of Scotland. The conference said:

"The park provides a wonderful venue for what will be a tremendous event, it is a place that has a great resonance for Scottish Catholics, many of whom remember fondly the wonderful day in 1982 when Pope John Paul II said mass there."

But the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland deplored the plans and passed an official protest at its recent synod.

A statement said it finds it "offensive that this visit results from an invitation to the Pope as Head of State, giving him that recognition and pretended legitimacy which he claims in opposition to the principles of the Reformation."

It adds: "We deny that he is the head of the Christian Church or that he has any civil power which should receive recognition by any State, particularly one which has renounced his pretended jurisdiction."

Describing the Papacy as "deceitful and unrighteous", the Free Presbyterians highlighted recent global exposure of child abuse by Roman Catholic clergy, and suggest the Pope has connived in a cover-up.

It also highlighted that the tour is scheduled for the key anniversary of the Scottish Reformation in 1560. The Free Presbyterian Church adds: "We find it particularly offensive that this visit will commence in Edinburgh where, 450 years ago, under the brave and godly leadership of John Knox and our other Reformers, the jurisdiction of the pope was forever abolished."

A spokesman for the Scottish Catholic Church said: "Pope Benedict XVI will come to this country as a guest of the UK government and with the good wishes of many people of all faiths and none.

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"All viewpoints within society, no matter how small and unrepresentative they may be, have a right to be heard, but intemperate objections should not detract from what will be a tremendous occasion for Scotland, which will enjoy many benefits as a result of the visit."

More than half of the 185,000 Catholics who attend Sunday services across Scotland are expected to be able to attend the mass on 16 September.

The 450 parishes in Scotland will receive a pro-rata allocation of places based on their mass attendance figures. Thousands more are expected to line the route of the Pope's motorcade through Edinburgh that day.

A St Ninian's Day Pageant in Edinburgh, involving children and pipe bands, is also planned.

Pope Benedict will celebrate an open air mass at Coventry Airport to beatify 19th-century Cardinal John Henry Newman. Crowds of 250,000 are expected at the event, which is open to all, on 19 September.