Religious Showdown: Papal Aide Drops Out of Visit to ‘Third World’ UK

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COLOGNE, Germany: Pope Benedict XVI (C) poses surrounded by Abraham Lehrer (L), Head of Cologne's Jewish community, Cologne's Chief Rabbi Natanael Teitelbaum (R), Cardinal Walter Kaspar, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Angelo Sodano (back 2ndR) and Cologne's Archbishop Joachim Meisner (back R) at the end of his historic visit to the city's synagogue, Germany, 19 August 2005. Pope Benedict XVI, on his first foreign trip, condemned the "unimaginable crime" of the Holocaust in an address 19 August to Jewish leaders during a historic visit to Cologne's synagogue, only the second ever by a pope to a Jewish place of worship. AFP PHOTO OLIVER BERG/POOL (Photo credit should read OLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images)

Cardinals aren’t allowed to make fun of Britain! Only Americans are allowed to make fun of Britain!

In an interview with the German Magazine Focus, a close advisor to Pope Benedict XVI minced no words in criticizing the United Kingdom, site of an upcoming visit by the Pope.

“When you land at Heathrow [airport] you think you are in a Third World land,” Cardinal Walter Kasper told the paper. He also implied the Christians were at a disadvantage in Britain due to a system of “aggressive atheism” in the country, saying “If you wear a cross you are discriminated.”

The remarks seemed to be a nose-thumbing against the UK, which has seen heavy protests against the Pope in advance of his four-day visit later this week. The Guardian this morning printed a letter from 50 intellectual Britons arguing against giving Benedict “the honour of a state visit,” due to his opposition to women’s and gay rights and his apparent inertia in dealing with the Catholic Church’s child abuse issues.

Today, Kasper backed out of the trip with the Pope. Vatican officials stated that this was due to illness.

Some Britons, though, have taken Kasper’s remarks with characteristic self-deprecation. Said Toby Young of the Telegraph:

Heathrow Airport is a smelly, chaotic, dirty hellhole — exactly like large parts of the United Kingdom, in fact. I don’t see how anyone could possibly object to this. It can’t be the real reason the Cardinal has pulled out of tomorrow’s Papal visit. Just an excuse I expect. Anything to avoid wading through the half-drunk cans of Coca-Cola and discarded Big Mac boxes that await any visitor to our Sceptic Isle.

That’s the spirit, old chap! Why let a German make fun of your country, when you can do it better?