Unlike many in the science community, I'm not an atheist, nor am I anti-Catholic. But I find it ludicrous in times of financial belt-tightening, that UK taxpayers should be expected to foot a bill of £8 million - or even £12 million (plus policing costs)- for a papal visit.
Set aside any concerns about Pope Benedict's weak handling of the child abuse scandals in his church. He may well have got it very wrong, but that isn't influencing my attitude. What lies at the heart of the problem is the ridiculous medieval concept (bizarrely only brought into being in 1929, though the 'Holy See' has much longer recognition) that the Vatican is a 'state' and, as such, makes the pope a head of state who therefore gets major elements of his visit paid for by us, rather than by his organization.
Why do we keep up this pathetic pretence? The Vatican isn't a state, anymore than Lambeth Palace is a state. It's the headquarters of a church. And similarly, why can the 'Holy See' issue diplomatic passports? It's a joke.
What's more, if we got rid of this concept, and any diplomatic powers given to the 'Holy See', not only would we do away with the costs of the pope's visit, we wouldn't have to pay for an ambassador to the Holy See - again, surely a useless concept if there ever was one. And I say this despite the deep sadness I would feel at wiping the smile off Anne Widdecombe's face*.
I'm not quite sure what is involved in un-recognizing a state... but it's time we did it.
* I'm very impressed that in the picture in the Telegraph article linked to here, Ms Widdecombe somehow manages to be smiling with her mouth turned down. I didn't think that possible.
Picture from Wikipedia