Monday's headlines in Britain's two most popular right-wing newspapers are so off the wall they are laughable.
"Offensive Foreign Office memo threatens Pope's historic visit'", claims the Mail; "Pope could cancel UK visit over 'offensive' foreign office memo", screams the Telegraph. The fact that the headlines are virtually the same should make us suspicious; being 12 days away from a General Election even more so.
A Foreign Office memo suggesting that Pope Benedict visit an abortion clinic and ordain a female priest when he visits in September has sparked a good deal of outrage -- as well it should. But the idea that the visit has been in some way imperilled by the revelations is just crazy. There is nothing here that could possibly endanger the trip. The memo represented no senior view -- it was submitted by a junior civil servant -- and has been utterly condemned by the Foreign Minister, who has issued a grovelling apology. (Yet a Telegraph blogger still feels free to claim that this was a "Foreign Office attack".)
In the same way, an official Vatican statement accepting the apology and refusing to endanger relations fails to stop the Mail -- facts seldom do -- claiming that "Papal aides have privately rejected a grovelling apology issued on behalf of [foreign secretary] David Miliband". Which "aides"? Bored curial monsignori? Why not name them?
The Telegraph meanwhile identifies the civil servant behind the memo, who turns out be aged 23. To avoid the inconvenience of this fact to the story it is desperate to run, the newspaper tries to claim -- citing, of course, no evidence -- that the civil servant "has escaped punishment because he was given authorisation to send the memo by a more senior civil servant". Puhleez.
The papal visit is not in doubt. As Jack Valero of Catholic Voices puts it, "Catholics will think about it today and then forget about it."
Both the Vatican and the Government want the trip to happen. All three contenders for prime minister welcomed the idea during the leaders' debate last Thursday (Ruth Gledhill carries the clip and the transcript of their answers). For all that the Mail and the Telegraph try to twist the facts of this disasteful little episode into a major embarrassment for the Labor Government, it simply isn't, and will soon be forgotten.