17 Sep 2010

Cardinal pulls out of papal visit to 'Third World' UK

11:01 am on 17 September 2010

One of the Pope's former senior advisers has pulled out of a papal visit to Britain after describing the United Kingdom as a 'Third World' country.

Cardinal Walter Kasper made the remarks in an interview in the German magazine Focus and also said Britain was marked by a new and aggressive atheism.

Cardinal Kasper was quoted as saying: "When you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country."

He also criticised British Airways, saying that when you wear a cross on the airline "you are discriminated against".

The Vatican says the 77-year-old cardinal has pulled out of the visit because of illness and says he did not intend any kind of slight with the magazine comments.

The German-born cardinal stepped down in July as the head of the papal department that deals with other Christian denominations.

The BBC reports that not all of the cardinal's comments in the interview were critical of the UK.

He also said: "Everyone who knows England knows that there is also a great Christian tradition there."

Pope Benedict XIV is spending four days in Scotland and England, starting on Thursday.

There has been opposition to the Pope's visit, over the church's stance on abortion and homosexuality, the scandals of child abuse by priests and the cost of the visit to British taxpayers.