Carla Powell

Diary – 24 October 2009

Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next year is a true historical landmark, as it will be the first official visit of a reigning pontiff in history.

Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next year is a true historical landmark, as it will be the first official visit of a reigning pontiff in history.

Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain next year is a true historical landmark, as it will be the first official visit of a reigning pontiff in history. John Paul II’s visit in 1982 was a private one. Gordon Brown says he invited his Holiness, which — if true — would represent a gross breach of protocol. Only the Queen can invite a head of state to Britain. Baroness Thatcher also discussed the prospect of a visit when she met the Pope in Rome earlier this summer. But the real go-between was Francis Campbell, Britain’s ambassador to the Holy See, the first Catholic to be appointed to that post. Aged just 39, he is immensely knowledgeable about every aspect of Vatican doctrine and, importantly, Vatican politics. A diplomat forgets at his peril the considerable political influence the papacy wields — not just in Italy but globally, as far afield as China and Latin America. Having a top-notch ambassador to the Holy See is a huge asset to the United Kingdom. Mr Campbell will be a very hard act to follow.

Italian politics are once again in turmoil, with Silvio Berlusconi being stripped by the constitutional court of immunity from prosecution, which sometimes seems to be his main reason for having gone into politics in the first place. There is much speculation about what would follow were Berlusconi forced to resign — improbable as that seems. I went to hear Francesco Rutelli, deputy prime minister in the last government and a popular former mayor of Rome, launch his new book La Svolta, meaning ‘About Turn’. More than anyone else he represents the moderate centre of Italian politics.

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