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An insult - or just an accidental truth?

If there is anything admirable about being British, then it has to be our ability to dismiss matters of great import with masterful understatement.

Just as Pope Benedict was about to begin his visit to the UK, one of his top cardinals puts his foot in it by declaring Britain a "Third World country" and accusing its national airline of discriminating against Christians.

All this against the backdrop of a child abuse scandal within the Catholic Church which had already made the Pope's trip a highly sensitive issue, without throwing in insults to the host nation by his key adviser.

But how did a BBC correspondent describe this highly offensive gaffe?

"A slightly clumsy thing to have done on the eve of the visit," David Wiley reported from Rome, home of the Vatican.

But what had me almost laughing out loud were the excuses pumped out by the Vatican to try to get Cardinal Walter Casper off the hook.

It seems he "did not intend any kind of slight" and, best of all, was "suffering from gout".

Given that gout tends to be most painful in the toes, putting a gout-ridden foot in your own mouth must be an extremely painful experience.

The cardinal was apparently quoted as remarking that "when you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country" and then going on to accuse British Airways of discriminating against those who "wear a cross".

But despite his appalling timing, he is not entirely wrong.

Christians may not be discriminated against by BA, but they certainly are in Britain, where the politically-correct brigade vehemently protects the sensitivities of every culture or religion except our own.

The Vatican leapt from the frying pan into the fire by dismissing the "Third World" remark as a reference to the UK's multi-cultural society, which smacks of racism.

But had the cardinal been referring to the UK's failing health services, seriously weakened social services, welfare system and falling education standards, then he would not have been too far off the mark.

Perhaps that's why we are not making too much fuss about the apparent insult, since he may have been accidentally telling the truth. lhorton@gdn.com.bh



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