Talking points: The pope's controversial U.K. visit

Journalists are fuming, protesters are plotting, and Susan Boyle has nearly collapsed. Here's the lowdown on Pope Benedict XVI's official trip 

The polarizing Pope Benedict.
(Image credit: Getty)

Pope Benedict XVI has touched down in the United Kingdom for his first papal visit and received a chilly welcome from the famously pugnacious British press — which has seized on a papal aide's remark that Britain resembles a "third-world country" — and anti-religion activists, who've threatened to arrest the pontiff for "crimes against humanity." That said, at least one Brit was overwhelmed by excitement. Here's a more detailed guide to the key talking points: (Watch a report about his U.K. visit)

1. The attack of the atheists

When the pope's visit was announced back in April, anti-religionists Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens hatched a plan to have him arrested for allegedly covering up child abuse by Catholic priests. That plan was doomed to failure — the pope has sovereign immunity from prosecution — but atheists, opponents of the Catholic Church, and victims of church abuse are set to march past London's Hyde Park where the pope will be hosting a vigil this Saturday. (For a suggested contribution of 5 pounds, The Guardian reports, faithful attendees will get a "drawstring bag containing a Pilgrim Passport, Commemorative CD and a How To Keep In Touch postcard.")

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2. The "third world" gaffe

Cardinal Walter Kasper, a senior Vatican official, was forced to pull out of the papal visit after a German magazine quoted him comparing the U.K. to a "third world country," and complaining of its "new and aggressive atheism." Polls suggest that Kasper is broadly correct on the latter point — only a third of Britons describe themselves as religious — but his "third world" gaffe provoked U.K. journalists, including Michael White at The Guardian: "What a "magnificently misjudged comment." Kasper's "racist myopia" is not welcome here.

3. The tax-payer rebellion

In line with policy on all state visits, British taxpayers will be covering an estimated $12 million of the visit's projected $20 million cost, but not cheerfully. In a survey, three-quarters of those polled (77 percent) said taxpayers should not contribute to the trip. "The British public never funds visits by the Grand Mufti of Mecca or the Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem," says human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell in an editorial at "Why should the pope's visit get privileged financial support?"

4. The breathless reaction of Susan Boyle

The middle-aged singing superstar, who shot to fame after an shockingly competent appearance on "Britain's Got Talent," sang at an open-air mass for the pope in Scotland on Thursday. A devout Catholic, Boyle appeared to faint when told she would meet Pope Benedict in person (Watch the video here).

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