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Papal pomp thanks to British taxpayers (2010)

What did the Pope’s September 2010 trip cost Britain? Between the announcement of the Pope’s first state visit to Britain until he arrived half a year later, the projected costs that were acknowledged rose by about a half, while the Government tried to keep secret other expenses, including the enormous security bill. British taxpayers were obliged to foot most of the bill for a ceremony to move a 19th-century theologian one step closer to sainthood ―  in the midst of brutal government austerity cuts. And to help pay for the Pope’s visit the UK Government quietly diverted money meant for the world’s poorest people.

Vatican uses “condom memo” to get £4 million more

Originally the UK taxpayer was supposed to contribute £8 million to the papal trip’s non-security expenses. [1] However, this was before a spoof by a junior Government employee gave the Vatican more leverage. The leaked memorandum, titled “The Ideal Visit” suggested that the Pope start a helpline for abused children, “announce sacking of dodgy bishops”, “do forward rolls with children to promote healthy living”, open an abortion clinic, launch his own brand of “Benedict” condoms, preside at a civil partnership, ordain a female priest, sing a duet with the Queen for charity, apologise for the Spanish Armada, and change the national anthem from “God Save The Queen” to “God Save the World”. [2]

The handling of the facetious memo was one of the more astute pieces of public relations from the Church, which in effect turned the other cheek in public while in private obtaining more concessions. [3]

Senior Papal aides managed to keep a straight face while professing deep concern. They went so far as to express outrage that the 23-year-old had not been sufficiently punished. “This could have very severe repercussions and [...] one has to question whether the action taken is enough. [...] This will all be relayed to the Pope. It’s even possible the trip could be cancelled.” [4]

The official refusal to comment increased Vatican leverage further, as it was accompanied by a threat. “We are not saying anything else [beyond the apologies offered by the British Foreign Office] as there is no need to ruin the good relations between the British government and the Vatican.” [5]

This display of outrage paid off handsomely. The newly-elected Conservative Government tried to placate the Vatican by giving it up to £4 million more toward the Pope’s visit. [6] This additional grant from the public purse, which increased the government’s contribution by 50 per cent, came amid announcements of the most drastic cuts in state services since the Second World War. [7]

 Exile for dodgy priests ― extra costs for taxpayer

Even before the Pope arrived other costs had mounted, as well. When the trip was announced in March 2010, the British bishops booked Coventry Airport for the Pope to hold a mass to beatify the 19th-century convert to Catholicism, John Henry Newman. Although Newman had no connection to Coventry, there was a reason for keeping the Pope away from the obvious venue, the Oratory in Birmingham which had been founded by Newman. As late as May a well-informed source judged it “unlikely that the Pope will visit the Oratory”, due to questions over what the Church insisted was a “chaste but intense” relationship between the Provost and a “young man”. [8]

On 2 February, shortly before the Papal visit was announced, the Provost was removed and later sent on a retreat. However, what caused protests from the laity was the sudden exile on 13 May by a Papal Visitor of three “outspoken”, but well-regarded priest from the Oratory. [9] With 12 hours notice and no explanation, the “Birmingham Three” were dispersed to Leicestershire, Scotland and “somewhere in France” and told “to spend time in prayer for an indefinite period”. They were forbidden to speak to each other or to the press. By August they had been sent still further away to the US, Canada and South Africa. [10] The Church maintained silence, prompting speculation among the laity as to whether “their exile was intended to protect their former provost” and “avoid any embarrassment to Pope Benedict when he visits the Oratory” by removing the possibility of any untimely revelations by the three “good pastors”. [11]

This appears to be the reason for the expensive change in the papal plans. In June, with the priests expelled, the Birmingham Oratory was put on the papal itinerary, and the beatification mass was switched to Crofton Park near Birmingham. [12] Dropping the plans for the mass at the Coventry Airport after three months of preparations there proved expensive for the British taxpayer. [13] The wasted time and money already spent in planning security cost the small Warwickshire Police force an additional £80,000. [14] Within a year the funding cuts were threatening to force the removal of up to 150 of its officers from the streets. [15] The expensive papal flip-flop won’t have helped. Naturally, no one expected the Vatican to pay for the cost incurred by Church tardiness in not sending away the Provost until six weeks before the announcement of the trip focused attention on the Oratory.

 Four cities in four lavish days

The visit itself began in Edinburgh where it was used to introduce religion into the public square. On the day of the Pope’s arrival, a lavish parade was held in honour of St. Ninian, an enigmatic figure who was first mentioned in Church sources three centuries after his reputed death. [16] The parade involved floral decorations and papal banners and  massive traffic diversions. [17] In the course of the Pope’s morning in Edinburgh, the City Council spent £292,727. [18]

In addition to that, the Pope’s visit meant extra expenses for the police force that covers Edinburgh. For a three-and-a-half mile journey in the popemobile between 600 and 700 officers of the Lothian and Borders Police alone stood guard as “route liners”, lurked armed in the crowds, watched from rooftops and formed a dense motorcycle cavalcade. [19] Even this was not enough and police officers from other Scottish police forces and from the international security firm MPS were brought in to increase the total to over 900 officers and staff. [20] The police ran up a bill of £543,226 but later received just £100,000 from the Scottish Government. Even before this blow the force had been facing historic cuts and had started shedding staff. [21]

After the Pope’s morning in Edinburgh he travelled by motorcade to Glasgow, accompanied by police from both cities, where he held a mass. There the Glasgow City Council spent £801,000 on his afternoon in town. [b]

The security force responsible for the Pope in Glasgow, the Strathclyde Police, had just begun to drop 400 officers and 600 civilian support staff in the face of huge budget cuts, [22] yet it still managed to muster 1,116 officers to protect the Pope [a] and for the Strathclyde Police spent £649,203.54. [23] But, like their colleagues in Edinburgh, they, too, received scant reimbursement from the Scottish Government, in their case £150,000,  leaving them with a hole in their already strained budget. [24] For a police force charged with trying to reduce gang-fuelled knife crime, losing more than half a million pounds is a serious blow. [25] To guard one of the richest men in the world for half a day they will have to cut back on protection for people living in the most deprived areas of Glasgow.

That evening the Pope departed for London, with his entourage of some three dozen Churchmen, as well as papal security people. [26] Eleven top members of his retinue, mostly archbishops and cardinals, stayed at the five-star Goring Hotel whose rooms begin at £400 a night. Each got an allowance for food, drinks and incidentals of up to £150 a day, all of this thanks to the UK taxpayer. [27] The Pope’s two-day visit to the capital provided him with a golden opportunity to lobby politicians, including the unelected clerics who sit in the House of Lords. The Pope also seized the chance to engage in a bit of discreet fundraising, inviting to a private audience major donors such as James Murdoch, son of a controversial media mogul, who is reported to have donated £100,000 towards the Catholic Church’s contribution to the papal trip. [28] In addition to the hospitality expenses the Pope’s two days in London cost the taxpayer £4,840 for helicopter surveillance and about £1.7 million for other security measures. [29]

 Leaving London the Pope flew north again to Birmingham. There he performed the beatification ceremony which had been moved away from Coventry at such great cost. Over and above the security bill, the Pope’s day in Birmingham left the city government with a bill of £82,000. This included the costs of staffing, infrastructure, informing residents of road closures, and also £1000 for a gift to the Pope, £8,808 for a civic dinner in honour of the Cardinal and £29,977 for the performance of a long theological poem by the now “blessed” author made into an oratorio that requires a large and expensive cast of souls, angels and demons. [30]

Changing the venue for the beatification mass to Birmingham also ran up bills for the local police. Site of the ceremony, Bellahouston Park, had to be sealed off for by a tall, dark grey wall of steel. [31] The security for the Pope’s one-day visit cost the police force in Birmingham £283,000 ― and that does not include the security costs to borne by the Government in London, including helicopters and other surveillance. [32] The police say that their additional costs will mean layoffs in coming years and less police protection for Birmingham. [33]

The biggest contribution from the state was for the beatification mass for Cardinal Newman inside the steel wall. Government figures reveal that more than a widely questioned miracle [34] was needed to get the Cardinal proclaimed blessed. To have him beatified, that is, certified as having entered Heaven and able to answer prayers, the British taxpayer paid a huge sum. After the beatification mass the Pope had a meeting with Catholic bishops. For these two strictly sectarian events the British Government contributed more than a million and a half pounds, £1,673,832, to be precise, and made an interest-free loan to the Church of another £4,431,347 more. [35]

Police chief: “A giant security operation with a religious service bolted on the back”

 Security, the costliest item, is left out of the Government’s estimates entirely. In fact, they disclaimed any knowledge of the costs, since each police force picked up the tab for its own area. Even so, they knew that it wouldn’t cost anything extra. They reached this remarkable conclusion by claiming that security is covered by “existing budgets”. [36]

However, the police forces themselves disagree, as this is hardly an everyday patrol. Their mandate to protect the community does not normally involve checking and sealing thousands of manholes, culverts and drains. Nor does it generally require sending nine officers to Portugal. This was to let them observe the security arrangements for the Pope’s visit there in May 2010, a trip which cost the forces involved about £5725. [37]

The police have protested that the additional costs will lead to layoffs and less public safety. South Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Meredydd Hughes, who is in charge of coordinating police protection, said that said no previous state visit had involved so many different sites around the country, since it was unusual for such dignitaries to “venture outside of London”. He described the papal visit as “a giant security operation with a religious service bolted on the back”. [38]

A secret security blueprint estimates that the security tab for the Scottish part of the visit could be about £10 million. [39] Together with austerity cuts in Government funding, the papal trip costs now threaten the Scottish police with a financial crisis. [40] 

Catholic Church owes UK taxpayers £3.5 million  a bailout would be “very welcome”

The British Government covered many of the Church’s contributions towards the papal trip and wants the money to be repaid by the end of the financial year. [41] This information was pried out by a Freedom of Information request two weeks after the trip ended. It turns out that, just as the Government made the security costs invisible by spreading them across the local police forces, it has made other costs hard to pinpoint by spreading a £10 million bill across six different government departments. [42]

Shortly after it was announced that the Catholic Church in Britain had spent “up to £3.5 million” more than it had brought in, a Church spokeswoman said delicately that “Discussions will be taking place about how best to fund any shortfall...”  According to Government figures it has paid in advance as an interest-free loan, for £6,232,121 worth of expenses that the Catholic Church had agreed beforehand to assume. [43] Now the Church appears to be hinting that it would like a further bailout by the taxpayers. After mentioning the shortfall the Church spokeswoman continued delicately “...and of course any contribution towards the cost of the visit would be very welcome.” [44]

Naturally, the Catholic Church in Britain has made no offer to sell any of its assets to pay its obligations, let alone asked the Vatican. The Catholic Church had promised to pay back the money to the British Government by 1 March 2011. [45] A fortnight later the Minister of State admitted that there was as yet no sign of the money. [46]

This, despite the fact that a poll taken shortly before the Pope arrived found that three quarters of Britons (76%) said that because the Pope was “a religious figure”, the taxpayer should not have to contribute anything at all to the costs of his visit. [47]

Anthony Aust, an expert in international law, concurs.

It is wrong for the United Kingdom to continue to recognise the Vatican as a state, have an ambassador to the Vatican, and accord the Pope a visit as a Head of State. This is irrespective of whether it is good or bad. The Vatican is a tiny area (110 acres) with a resident population of some 800 whose main purpose is to support the Holy See. The Vatican is not a member of the United Nations. It may be seen best for what it really is: a small part of Italy devoted to proselytising Roman Catholicism, which is an important religion but no more than that. [48]

Furthermore, it was not just the British taxpayer who felt the financial impact of the Pope’s state visit ― it was also the world's poor. For the latest revelation is that £1.85 million of foreign aid funding was quietly diverted to the pay for this. Malcolm Bruce, the MP who chairs the international development select committee, said voters would struggle to understand how this could happen. “Many people will be as surprised as we were to discover that UK aid money was used to fund the Pope’s visit”. [49] 


Unless otherwise indicated, the figures cited here are drawn from “The Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, 16‐19 September 2010 : Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Expenditure”.

This does not include the contributions of the five other UK ministries involved: the departments for environment, farming and rural affairs; communities and local government; education: and international development. It also does not include the expenditures of the Scottish Government or the four city councils. And, of course, it does not include the massive costs of security.

1. Dan Bell,  “Who should pay for the Pope’s visit?” BBC, 21 May 2010.

2. Stephen Bates, and Fiona Winward, “Pope receives apology from UK Foreign Office for ‘condom’ memo”, Guardian, 26 April 2010.

3. Paul Donovan, “Is Pope Benedict’s media team up to the challenge?” Guardian, 30 August 2010.

4. Gordon Rayner and Nick Pisa, “Pope memo sent by 23-year-old Oxford graduate”, Telegraph, 26 April 2010.

5. Gordon Rayner and Nick Pisa, “Pope ‘could cancel UK visit’ over ‘offensive’ Foreign Office memo”, Telegraph, 26 April 2010.

6. Martin Beckford, “David Cameron puts more money and resources into Pope’s visit”, Telegraph, 3 July 2010. 
“Cost of Pope's UK visit rises sharply”, Reuters, 5 July 2010.

7. Sarah Lyall, “Britain Begins to Feel the Pain of Austerity Cut”, New York Times, 9 August 2010.

8. Ruth Gledhill, “Birmingham Oratory in dispute over provost’s ‘chaste’ relationship”, The Times, 21 May 2010.

9. Interview with Dr Thomas Ward, (Vice-President of the National Association of Catholic Families, Corresponding Member of the Pontifical Council for Life) “The Birmingham Oratory: The crisis one year on. No coincidences”, CF News, 12 May 2011.

10. Martin Beckford, “Pope’s visit could be overshadowed by exile of Birmingham priests”, Telegraph, 21 August 2010.

11. William Crawley, “What happened to the Birmingham Three?” William Crawley’s Blog, 18 August 2010.

12. Anna Arco, “New venue announced for Newman beatification”, Catholic Herald, 1 July 2010.

13. “Mass to be held at Coventry Airport by Pope Benedict”, BBC, 19 March 2010.
This was also confirmed in the official booklet: “The Pope in the UK” (pdf), The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland, 2010, p. 24.

14. “Police ‘spent £80k planning Pope’s aborted Coventry trip’”, Coventry Telegraph, 14 July 2010.

15. Alan Travis, “Frontline police moved into office jobs as part of cuts”, Guardian, 28 March 2011.

16. “Who was Saint Ninian?” BBC News, 13 September 2010.

17. “Michael Blackley, Pope’s visit to Edinburgh will cost city £400k”, Scotsman, 4 August 2010.

18. Sue Gyford, “Papal visit leaves city to pick up £250k bill”, The Scotsman, 24 November 2010. (The Scottish Government also contributed, bringing the total to £292,727.)

19. Alison Campsie, “Police warn of security fears over papal visit”, Herald, 15 September 2010.

20. Lothian and Borders Police Board, “Report State Visit - Pope Benedict XVI”, 18 January 2011.

21. Gerry Braiden, “Police anger at £1m bill for visit of Pope”, Sunday Herald, 2 March 2011.

Strathclyde Police, “Freedom of Information Request 0681/2010”, date of reply, 2 November 2010.

22. David Leask, “Strathclyde Police ‘to lose 400 officers’”, Herald Scotland, 24 Aug 2010.

a. Cops’ £1.2m bill for Pope visit

Scott Mullen
The Scottish Sun, 02 Mar 2011

23. Strathclyde Police, “Freedom of Information Request 0138/2011”, date of reply, 17 March 2011.

24. Gerry Braiden, “Police anger at £1m bill for visit of Pope”, Sunday Herald, 2 March 2011.

25. “Glasgow's rebirth blighted by some of the worst social problems in the UK”, Centre for Social Justice, 4 February 2008.

26. Anna Arco, “All the Pope’s men”, Catholic Herald, 13 September 2010.

27. [Public costs for papal entourage, UK 2010], The Tablet, 7 August 2010. Reposted at

“Taxpayers to foot luxury hotel bill for Pope’s entourage”, Daily Mail, 15 August 2010.

28. Jerome Taylor, “Taxpayers James Murdoch paid £100,000 to meet Pope”, Independent, 15 July 2011.

29. Metropolitan Police Service, “Freedom of Information Request No: 2011020003220”, date of reply, 15 March 2011.

This is close to the estimate made before the papal visit:

“Minutes of the meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority held on 27 May 2010 at Chamber, City Hall, London.”

95.26 Members asked for details of cost of the forthcoming Papal visit. The Commissioner confirmed that estimated costs were £1.8 million of which approximately £0.8 would be opportunity costs. He added that at this stage these were very much early estimated costs.

30. “Pope’s visit to Birmingham cost council £82,000”, Birmingham Mail, 3 January 2011.

31. “Security fences erected around Cofton Park ahead of Pope’s visit”, Birmingham Mail, 7 September 2010.

32. West Midlands Police, “Freedom of Information Request No: 4383/11”, date of reply, 17 March 2011.
“Pope’s visit to Birmingham cost West Midlands Police £280,000”, Birmingham Post, 13 December 2010. 

33. “West Midlands Police fearing Pope security costs during visit to Birmingham”, Birmingham Post, 2 July 2010. 
“Pope visit could cost jobs of West Midlands Police officers”, Birmingham Post, 8 August 2010.

34. John Cornwell, “Why Cardinal Newman is no saint”, The Sunday Times, 9 May 2010

Dr. Peter May, “Cardinal Newman’s Miracle”, Triple helix, (Christian Medical Fellowship), winter 2010,  p. 14).

35. “The Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, 16‐19 September 2010 : Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Expenditure”.

36. The (non-itemised) estimate provided by the British Government includes only “non-police costs”. “Date set for Pope’s visit to UK”, Press Association, 16 March 2010.

Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Costs of Pope's State Visit 2010, reply to Steve Bird under the Freedom of Information Act 2000, date of reply, 15 July 2010.

37. Home Office, “Freedom of Information Request, Reference 15447”, date of reply, 5 August 2010.

38. “Police reveal plans to protect Pope”, UKPA, 9 September 2010.   

39. Kathleen Nutt and Siobhan McFadyen, “Pope gets total protection: Up to 6,000 cops for papal visit to Scotland”, News of the World, 29 August 2010.

40. Dean Herbert, “Scots police can’t afford to protect the Pope”, Daily and Sunday Express, 10 June 2010.

Lucy Adams, “Police warn size of cuts make single force move inevitable”, Herald Scotland, 8 July 2010.

41. Riazat Butt, “Catholic church struggles with cost of pope’s visit to UK”, Guardian, 28 October 2010.

42. Frederika Whitehead, “Pope’s UK trip hands embattled environment departments £3.7m bill”, Guardian, 5 October 2010.

43. Total of the figures on the right at: “The Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom, 16‐19 September 2010 : Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Expenditure”.

44. Mark Greaves, “Church faces £3.5 million shortfall from papal visit”, Catholic Herald, 14 October 2010.

45. Christopher Lamb, “Papal visit costs Church £10m”, The Tablet, 19 February 2011.

46. House of Lords, Written answers and statements, 15 March 2011, Lord Howell of Guildford (Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office) answering a question by Baroness Turner of Camden.

47. “Britons enthusiastic about papal teaching if not papal visit”, Theos, 4 September 2010.

48. Anthony Aust, author of Handbook of International Law (2010), letter to The Times, 15 September 2011. Reposted at

49. “MPs query £1.85m overseas aid spent on Pope visit”, BBC News, 3 February 2011.



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