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UK apologizes to Vatican over Pope visit jokes

LONDON (AP) — Britain's Foreign Office issued a hasty apology Sunday to Pope Benedict XVI after publication of an internal memo in which officials joked he could open an abortion clinic, launch a range of condoms or sing a duet with Queen Elizabeth II during a four-day visit in September.

The document, sections of which were published in the Sunday Telegraph newspaper, also proposed the pope could bless a gay marriage, and acknowledge the clerical sex abuse scandal by establishing a hot line for abused children, or honoring abuse whistleblowers.

Junior officials wrote the memo following a brainstorming session intended to discuss ideas for the visit, the first to Britain by the head of the Roman Catholic Church since Pope John Paul II in 1982.

Though some included advice for Britain's government on how to approach the abuse scandal, the ministry condemned many of the proposals as "ill-judged, naive and disrespectful."

Britain's ambassador to the Vatican, Francis Campbell, met senior Vatican officials offer a formal apology and one individual involved in drafting the memo has been transferred to other duties, the ministry said.

"The Foreign Office very much regrets this incident and is deeply sorry for the offense which it has caused," the ministry said in a statement. "We strongly value the close and productive relationship between the U.K. government and the Holy See and look forward to deepening this further with the visit of Pope Benedict to the U.K."

The document featured a diagram listing people likely to have an influential role during, or in commenting on, the visit — which ranked Scottish singer Susan Boyle, the surprise reality television star, as more important than Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales.

An accompanying note acknowledged many of the ideas contained in the memo were extreme. "These should not be shared externally...," it read, explaining the document was "the product of a brainstorm which took into account even the most far-fetched of ideas."

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi said an apology from Britain had been received through the Holy See's embassy. "They supplied all the explanations, and there is nothing to add," Lombardi said.

Britain's Scotland Secretary Jim Murphy on Sunday branded the suggestions contained in the memo as despicable. "These are vile, they're insulting, an embarrassment, and on behalf of the whole of the United Kingdom, I would want to apologize," he said, during an election debate.

During his visit to Scotland and England, Pope Benedict XVI will give a speech in London, attend an ecumenical service at Westminster Abbey and conduct a public mass in Glasgow's Bellahouston Park.

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Associated Press Writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.