A May response from the U.K. government to an electronic petition asking it to "disassociate" itself from the views of Pope Benedict XVI has resurfaced in the news. The petition's author argued it was prematurely closed to help the Pope save face, but evidence shows his petition was halted like all the others.
Under the Gordon Brown government, the official website of the British prime minister, www.number10.gov.uk, allowed "e-petitions" to be submitted to give citizens a voice on an official platform. Petitions with over 500 signatures were promised responses.
Among the petitions lodged before the Brown administration lost the elections this past May was one one imploring the prime minister "to disassociate the British government from the Pope's intolerant views ahead of the Papal visit to Britain in September 2010."
The petition had garnered more than 12,000 signatures before it was blocked on April 6, like all other petitions from the previous government, with the entry of David Cameron's newly-elected government.
A May 11th statement from Cameron's cabinet in response to the petition confirmed the Pope's trip as a state visit, by invitation of the Queen, for Sept. 16-19.
"The program will include a number of pastoral events, which are the responsibility of the Catholic Church, as well as some significant official events, which will provide opportunities for issues of common interest to the UK Government and the Holy See to be discussed at the highest level," read the statement.
It went on to call the Holy See a "valuable international partner for the government with its global reach" and to promote the relationship between the two sides as one that enables them to address foreign policy and development issues together.
The government conceded that "As with any bilateral diplomatic relationship there are issues on which we disagree. The Holy See is clear on our positions on these issues," the statement said. "However, we believe that Pope Benedict’s visit will provide an opportunity to strengthen and build on our relationship with the Holy See in areas where we share interests and goals, and to discuss those issues on which our positions differ."
The petition's author, Peter Tatchell, went to the media last week to protest the fact he had only just found out that it was closed to new signatures, despite being told by the former government that it would remain open until the Pope's arrival. Tatchell is a well-known gay activist and the leader of the group Protest the Pope. He is also being sponsored by Channel 4 to make a controversial hour-long film on the Holy Father that will air before the papal visit.
Tatchell said in a statement on July 16, "This looks like an attempt to prevent the petition from embarrassing the government by gaining a large number of signatures in the run-up to Pope Benedict's visit to the U.K. in September."
However, the Cameron administration explained in its statement, this petition and a couple dozen others, including one to "Keep the National Football Museum in Preston" and another to "Fix our Roads," were closed and answered in the spring.
The same statement reported that a new e-petition submission system would be opened by the government later in 2010.