Relations between the Labour Government and the Catholic Church in England and Wales are at an all-time low. But ties between our Prime Minister and Pope are surprisingly cordial, to judge from the correspondence between the two posted on the Downing Street website this week.
Gordon Brown was inspired to write to Benedict XVI after he read the latter's speech to the United Nations General Assembly in New York in April. It's pleasing to imagine the Prime Minister poring over the Pope's dense 4,000-word address. which encouraged those who defend genuine universal human rights. Mr Brown picked up on Pope Benedict XVI's passing reference to the Millennium Development Goals. In the year 2000 the UN's 189 member states committed themselves to fulfilling these eight goals by 2015. They include eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary education and combating Aids. (They also seek to provide "universal access to reproductive health", but the UN has clarified that this does not refer to abortion.) The Prime Minister noted that he and the Pope share a desire to ensure that these goals are met. They also share the fear that the world's leaders will fall far short of their commitments. Mr Brown asked Benedict XVI to give his support to a global coalition working to prevent the goals slipping down the political agenda. The Pope appeared to give a diplomatic thumbs-up to the idea.
It doesn't end there. Mr Brown is likely to visit Pope Benedict in the coming months. Let's pray that the meeting goes well and that the British leader returns determined to bridge the gulf between the Government and Catholics in this country.