Monday, December 31, 2012

British government offer stopped cancellation of 1982 papal visit

The Government prevented the cancellation of Pope John Paul II's 1982 visit to Britain by offering to withdraw the involvement of a senior minister from the trip's itinerary, newly declassified papers show.

The Holy See considered cancelling the visit due to Britain's military action in the Falkland Islands following the Argentine invasion.

Days before the Pope was to make the trip Francis Pym, then Foreign Secretary, sent a message to the Vatican suggesting that he would not meet the Pope when he arrived at Gatwick airport nor would ministers be present at a reception to be held at Archbishop's House, Westminster.

"Please therefore tell the Holy See as soon as possible and at the highest possible level that, if it would help the Pope to stand by his visit, HMG [Her Majesty's Government] would be ready to treat the visit even more than at present envisaged as a purely pastoral event and therefore to remove from the present programme most or all aspects of governmental involvement," Mr Pym wrote in a telegram to the British Ambassador to the Holy See.

This also included a planned meeting between Pope John Paul II and then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

The papers, which are being released under the 30-year rule, show the Holy See thanking the Government for the offer.

Then Cardinal Secretary of State, Agostino Casaroli, said that the ministers' withdrawal from the visit "had done much to make it possible for him [the Pope] to come."