The diplomat who has been disciplined over a Foreign Office memo mocking the Pope was accused last night of being “clueless” about the Catholic faith.
By Gordon Rayner, Chief Reporter
Published: 6:20AM BST 27 Apr 2010
Anjoum Noorani, 31, was the leader of the Papal Visit Team which drew up a document suggesting the Pope should launch his own range of “Benedict” condoms, open an abortion clinic and stay in a council flat in Bradford.
Mr Noorani, whose identity has until now remained secret, was moved to “other duties” after he gave authorisation for the memo to be sent to Downing Street and three Whitehall departments.
The memo, which was leaked to The Sunday Telegraph, threatens to overshadow the Pope’s entire four-day visit in September after it prompted fury in the Vatican and among Catholics in Britain.
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.
The memo, which also called for the Pope to bless a homosexual marriage, was emailed around Whitehall by Steven Mulvain, a 23-year-old Oxford graduate who describes his sexual orientation on a social networking website as “gay”.
Mr Mulvain has not been disciplined for his role in the fiasco.
Mr Noorani, who, like Mr Mulvain, is a graduate of Balliol College, Oxford, chaired the “brainstorm” session which led to the “Ideal Visit” memo, which also proposed that the Pope should sing a duet with the Queen and sponsor a network of Aids clinics.
He worked as press secretary at the British Embassy in Russia between 2002 and 2007, where he dealt with all Russian media inquiries about Britain’s response to the murder of the former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko. He was unavailable for comment last night and his mother, who lives in Windsor, said she “can’t say anything”.
Although the Vatican is now trying to draw a line under the memo fiasco, Papal aides believe the Government’s choice of non-Catholic staff typifies the “lack of respect” being shown towards the first ever state visit by a Pontiff.
One source said: “The most striking thing about the Foreign Office team has been how ineffectual they are. They have been disengaged and, frankly, clueless.
“I have never had the impression that any members of the team were informed or even sensitive to the Catholic Church or Catholicism generally.”
One senior source at the Catholic Church in England and Wales said: “This does beg the question of how seriously this visit is being taken by the Government.
“All of our dealings with this Foreign Office team have suggested they don’t have any understanding of Catholicism and that’s how this issue seems to have come about.
“Why did they even have this brainstorming session in the first place? The Pope’s itinerary was decided a long time ago, so it’s not as if there was much room for extra events to be laid on.”
William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: “This whole episode was utterly unacceptable.
“A Conservative-run Foreign and Commonwealth Office would put a stop to such pointless time-wasting and insulting activities. Visits by international leaders should be handled with the respect they deserve and that we would expect to be extended to us.”
The Foreign Office declined to comment on the religious beliefs of the members of the Papal Visit Team.
Published in the Telegraph: