A report published by the House of Commons International Development Select Committee has questioned why £1.85 million was taken out of the government's international aid budget to fund Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain last year - writes Trevor Grundy.
Liberal democrat MP Malcolm Bruce, who chairs the International Development Select Committee, told the BBC: "The Department for International Development (DfID) budget is basically targeted at reducing poverty in poor countries and the money should be used to benefit poor people in the most effective way that’s possible. Contributing to the cost of a state visit by the Pope to the UK makes no such contribution."
In a comment on the report, published on Parliament's website, the cross-party committee said that when reviewing the department's accounts, "the MPs were ... surprised to discover that the Pope’s visit was paid for in part by money supposed to be for overseas development aid (ODA). The Committee is demanding a response from the Government as to what the £1.85 million, transferred to the Foreign Office for the papal visit, was spent on and an explanation as to how this was ODA compliant."
A spokesperson for the Catholic Communications Office (CCO) in London, which represents the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, told ENInews that it would make no comment on the news. A representative of the Scottish Media Office of the Bishops Conference in Glasgow said no one was available to comment.
A report in The Scotsman newspaper quoted an unidentified spokesman for the Catholic Church as saying: "It is a matter for the government how it pays its share," a reference to the estimated £10.2 million it cost the British taxpayer to host the Pope and Vatican officials.
The Rev Ian Galloway, the Church and Society Convener of the Church of Scotland told ENInews: "When I heard about this, I found it difficult to believe. This is an extraordinary confession by the government. It is utterly unacceptable and hard to explain to those whose suffering would be alleviated had this money been used as intended."
Anas Sarwar, the MP for Glasgow Central, who also sits on the Select Committee and was involved in raising money for the Pakistan floods, described the findings as "shocking".
He said he was "proud" that the papal visited started in Scotland, but was concerned that the government had broken a promise to protect international aid: "There is no getting away from it, this is going to pose severe difficulties when it comes to making sure every pound is well spent."
[With acknowledgements to ENInews. ENInews, formerly Ecumenical News International, is jointly sponsored by the World Council of Churches, the Lutheran World Federation, the World Communion of Reformed Churches and the Conference of European Churches.]