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Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Today's FCO Papal Visit news

On Sunday, the Telegraph broke the news of the FCO's "error of judgement" memo insulting the Pope. Yesterday, it was revealed that the junior official who circulated the document was Stephen Mulvain and we got to see the "Stakeholder Positioning Chart". Today's news is that the more senior official who authorised the sending of the memo was Anjoum Noorani (right).

I wonder what tomorrow will bring? It is comforting in a way, to see that the FCO is challenging the Vatican Press Office in incompetence at news management. To be fair, it should be said that the Sala Stampa is improving rapidly: this would probably be called a "learning curve" over at King Charles Street.

For details on today's development, see the following articles:

Daily Telegraph: Diplomat disciplined over Pope memo is named
Daily Mail: Revealed, the papal visit chief who wrote memo mocking Pope

Noorani's role is "Head of the Papal Visit Team" which puts the FCO in a quandry. They said that a junior worker was responsible for the offensive memo. Have they put a junior worker in charge of the Papal Visit Team? Is Mr Noorani just a step up from Mr Mulvain in the chain of scapegoating?

The Telegraph says:
The Foreign Office declined to comment on the religious beliefs of the members of the Papal Visit Team.
According to the Mail,
Mr Noorani is understood to be British Pakistani - but colleagues say he is not a Muslim.
Both, of course, could be entirely true; the FCO staidly refusing to comment while colleagues, trying to be helpful, desperately deny something that would blow the story up further.

According to these reports, there were four people in the team. It would be interesting to know who the other two were. The Mail reports that
None of the Foreign Office's Pope memo team is understood to be Catholic, according to senior sources within the Church. (my emphasis)
There seems to be an ambiguity here as well, since the Telegraph version says:
Senior members of the church have described Mr Noorani and his team as having “not the slightest understanding of Catholicism”. None of the four-strong group is thought to be a practising Catholic. (my emphasis)
So there is plenty more to come out and I think we can probably expect further news over the next few days.

Apparently a "senior source" in the Catholic Church in England and Wales has said that this whole affair shows that the government is not taking the visit seriously. I'm not sure about that. The FCO website has a chain of pages as follows: Home › About us › What we do › Working in partnership › Working with stakeholder groups › Working with faith groups (>>> predictably, the chain continues with Working with Muslim communities.) On the Working with faith groups page, we read:
UK faith groups and religious leaders have a strong interest in international affairs and can play an important part in delivering our objectives of preventing and resolving conflict, respect for human rights and promotion of a low carbon high growth global economy. They have particular expertise and networks, which can supplement and complement our own information and contacts base.
So I think it is probably right to say that this team are clueless about Catholicism and insensitive to our religious beliefs. Nevertheless, they probably see the Papal visit as an opportunity for the Catholic Church to "play an important part" in delivering their objectives.
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