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When does a joke go too far?

April 26th, 2010
01:05 PM ET

Pope Benedict XVI will not call off a trip to Great Britain despite a leaked Foreign Office memo that made "foolish" suggestions about things he could do while there, the pope's spokesman reiterated.

Should the pope's visit to the UK go ahead?

"As far as the Vatican is concerned, the case is closed. There never was the slightest doubt about the trip," the Rev. Federico Lombardi told CNN.

The British government apologized over the weekend for the Foreign Office memo suggesting that the pope could launch Benedict-brand condoms or bless a gay marriage when he visits the United Kingdom later this year.

The memo also includes suggestions that the pope ordain a female priest or launch an abortion clinic - both of which are forbidden by Roman Catholic doctrine.

Many of the ideas in the document are "clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful," the Foreign Office said in a statement Sunday, which referred to the memo as "foolish."

The writer of the memo "has been transferred to other duties. He has been told orally and in writing that this was a serious error of judgment," the Foreign Office said.

We want to know what you think. Was the memo meant as a joke? When does a joke go too far? How should the writer of the memo be disciplined?

Filed under:  General
soundoff (65 Responses)
  1. Dylan

    Was the memo meant as a joke?

    I should hope so, because I don't think anyone is dumb enough to think that the Vatican will actually change any of its backwards and outdated dogma any time soon.

    When does a joke go too far?

    Only when someone gets hurt. Which in this case, hasn't happened yet.

    How should the writer of the memo be disciplined?

    With a Pulitzer prize, for bringing up the hard issues which need to be brought up, not another round of feel-good rhetoric.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:16 pm | Reply
  2. David

    We British are used to satirising anyone and I hope the Pope is big enough to take it. Trouble is that if you try that on with a Muslim cleric, you get bombed.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:18 pm | Reply
  3. Dennis

    Someone at the Foreign Office sure let his/her opinion be known. The point is noted by everyone who reads or watches TV ... now let's get on to serious business.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Reply
  4. Dan

    Okay I'll grant that diplomacy doesn't work by poking fun foreign dignitaries, even if it's well deserved. But suppose it came from an independent source – what exactly was "disrespectful" about calling on the Pope to confront the real-world consequences of Vatican policies???

    April 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm | Reply
  5. Giulia

    Is the Catholic Church afraid of a joke? Is it nowadays so weak? If it is, it's better to remain locked inside the Vatican.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Reply
  6. Moe Smith

    Crucify them all and let God sort them out.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:25 pm | Reply
  7. Rita Ben, India

    Catholic Church is the body of the risen Lord Jesus, the son of the Almighty God. And the pope is the good shepherd appointed by Jesus to tend His sheep/people in this world!

    Whatever may be the challenges of the Catholic church in today's world, church and the papacy will countinue since it's from God, not from Human beings..!!!

    Media has the responsibility to be with the church, the body of our God!!!! may God blees u for all ur good works..!!!:)

    April 26, 2010 at 1:31 pm | Reply
  8. Alvaro Moran

    How many people were killed by Catholic Inquisition?. They should be able to accept one joke in return.......

    P.D: I personally think the employees involved should be promoted.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:33 pm | Reply
  9. kevin

    Quite right Dan , but for one thing. What would have happened if this idiotic overprivileged young man had called on a senior Muslim cleric to "confront the real world consequences of Muslim policies" ??

    He would get his P45, followed by very necessary round the clock protection..

    It was a cowardly attack.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  10. Steven Morgano

    The person who wrote the memo should be fired.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Reply
  11. KB

    I live in Europe (I am not European) I have noticed that the Catholic Church here does not agressively promote NOT using condoms the way it does in Africa (nor am I from the African Continent), I am here wondering if there isnt a jint of racism going on here!? What the Africans must continue, through natural human nature, to engage in sexual pleasure without the protection of something as simple and life saving as a condom, but the Europeans can? Oh, their lives are not that important, is that the case, must the plight across the African continent continue so as to give credence to Catholism's ambitions of 'chari-pity' ? I wish i had a million Euros to go open a condom factiry and help solve this hypocrasy. People in Europe engage in just as much sex out of wedlock ... so dont even give me the excuse that morality needs be the focus! Saving lives is.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Reply
  12. David

    All this proves is that the Foreign Office is an equal opportunity employer and that it has its fair share of twits. Id think the Catholic Church has more important things to worry about than one daft memo, starting with its horrific record of protecting predatory priests and telling victims that they were 'mistaken' about their experiences.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Reply
  13. desert voice

    Britain is not immune to foolishness. Foolisness strikess the debil minds throughout the world. A leader of the greatest world religion is an easy target for he laxcks an army. Imagine a Foreign office of France, or Germany depicting President Obama teaching school kids how to put a condom. I venture to say, that this might be a reason for breaking the diplomatic relations. It is a sad story in this day and age that callous, idiotic people are found in the British Foreign Office! How would I discipline such people. Not by a firing squad ... but by firing on the spot! Their future as diplomats is dead, anyway, ... for the world will remember!

    April 26, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  14. Tina Maria

    I think it's not even worth discussing such a stupid and foolish joke..!!! Media should avoid such kind of unnecessary and foolish news and use the media for informative n useful news..!!! I'm sure that the church will Not take this foolish joke seriously..!! And for sure church n the catholics will forgive n pray for that person..!! But Media & the people should use their God given prudence in neglecting such useless n foolish news...!!!!

    April 26, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  15. peter381

    Actually the memo did not go far enough. The Pope should be required to defend his policies, on issues such as birth control, that cause so much suffering in the world.

    As for punishment for the civil servant – an OBE would seem sufficient

    April 26, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  16. Bird

    Too bad for the Catholic church!
    The church itself is 'the joke'. For where they have managed to position themselves, they deserve to be treated as a joke.
    How do these so called people from God look at themselves with anything but disgust?
    The backwards thinking of Catholicism should stop, but perhaps it would be better if they keep driving off the cliff they have been headed towards for years.

    April 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm | Reply
  17. Fran

    Monty Python at its finest. Lighten up for "heaven's" sake!!

    April 26, 2010 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  18. Marcie

    Of course it was meant as a joke. Did it go too far? It depends on whether or not you are Catholic. Was was inappropreate was the source and his/her position.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:03 pm | Reply
  19. Mgbemere michael

    What sort of joke is this.what for?why? Infact i can say,this is more than a joke but serious.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  20. Mgbemere chibueze

    Infact am shock the memo writer should be jail because this is more than an insult to personality.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  21. Britt

    Coming from one side, the joke itself was pretty funny.

    But let me point out to those who have already responded: The Catholic Church and the papacy are both extremely important to followers of the Catholic faith, and this joke was insulting and hurtful to them. So yes, people did "get hurt".

    Please understand that I in no way agree with the Catholic Church regarding same sex marriage, use of birth control, etc. However, I do believe that this was not the place for this kind of rebuttal, however lighthearted it was meant to be.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:26 pm | Reply
  22. xavier baudet

    It's a joke and a good one too. But something tells me that the UK-government tried to find a way to vent its real opinion of the Church without having to issue a fullblown diplomatic complaint that would alienate catholic voters. Personally I think governments are being too appeasing towards the vatican. When something is wrong it should be mentioned. Child abuse is wrong, homofobia is wrong, Aids is a terrible disease that should be stopped, not spread. The Catholic Church is spreading it. So, did this joke go too far? Certainly not. It didn't go far enough.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  23. get a life

    I thought it was very funny. I feel bad for the poor people who didn't get it. If you didn't think this "joke" memo was amusing. You need to get a life. And yes, I find jokes about things that are important to me to be funny. How sad that the people who have gotten on their high horse over this get the same single vote that I do. Some of you people who have written are very scary.
    Yes, this was a funny joke that unfortunately was made public.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm | Reply
  24. You

    I love the political irony here... last week the controversy was over South Park and it's episode where the prophet Mohamed was dressed in a bear suit. When the media heard this they had a field day about how disrespectful it was, how the creators should apologize for their actions and be held responsible for it. All of which was topped with a comment from a group called Revolution Muslim, "“We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid, and they will probably wind up like Theo van Gogh for airing this show."
    Contrast this with these comments being made and how everyone is handling them. The only reason reporters are not walking on thin ice is because it's Catholics...they aren't going to go suicide bomb on everyone. I love the double standard in today's society because the majority lives in fear of what might happen from one religious sect. Unbelievable.
    I don't condone anything the Catholic church has done recently nor am I a member, but this is a great example of how the world thinks today. Most people wont admit it, but you know that there is nothing to cause you to persecute the Catholic church so you do. On the other hand you're cowards for standing back to let the Muslim community make threats at anyone who expresses an opinion because you live in fear of the them and what they have shown they are capable of.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Reply
  25. Femi Olubodun

    Clearly, this should be treated as more than a sick joke. After all, the memo was leaked from the British Government's office

    The writer obviously meant to embarass the Pope and by extension the Catholic Church. I like the maturity of the Pope "saying the case is closed".

    However, I dont like the tepid reaction of the British Government considering the fact that the Catholic Church is one of the largest religious bodies in the world.

    A stronger disciplinary action for the officer in question should have been undertaken.

    April 26, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Reply
  26. J. Hall

    Everything can be funny and, in the right circumstances, it's probably fine. Being appropriate with humor is really just a matter of maturity. If you know that your humor is hurting someone, then don't use it. Some people are overly sensitive, but they can't help that. Better I think to restrain yourself and make your point some other appropriate way. I think there is a time and place for humor to be a method to poke at our centers of power, but it's best to be careful or you make their point for them. As in this case, the Pope is unperturbed, England felt it had to apologize, and the perpetrator appears to be a silly school boy whose note got intercepted by the teacher.

    April 26, 2010 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  27. irishathens

    Different cultures have different senses of humour. I found the whole piece astute and very funny.
    If the Vatican feels 'upset' tough. These 'men of God' are living on another planet.

    April 26, 2010 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  28. twiddly

    The "joke" is on all the catholics that have fallen for this "god hoax" all these years.

    Time to pack up jesus along with santa and easter bunny and wait for the next pagan holiday that has been co-opted by chrisitianity.

    April 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Reply
  29. Keira

    Anyone who actually thought this was for real, is a fool! A joke's a joke and to be honest, the Catholic church has been the brunt of jokes for years. This isn't anything new and the Vatican can't act as if they haven't heard jokes being made about them before. They've been around the block a few hundred years. They can take it. I thought it was quite clever.


    April 26, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  30. Robert Burgess - Canada

    One of your comments asks "can't the Catholic Church take a joke?"
    As someone who observes your country from afar (Canada), you appear to be very selective on who you make jokes about. I wonder what the typically weak English reaction would be if the joke was directed at the Islamic religion?

    April 26, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Reply
  31. Bill

    This vile mockery of the Pope and the Roman Catholic Church is extremely offensive and low. An apology from FCO without a sack of all involved is a half apology. This incidence demonstrates the rabid anti-catholic prejudice in UK governmental institutions and its high time this state of affairs is exposed to the world. . Despite media and official prejudices often to perpetuate anti-catholic ideological agenda, the 1 billion Roman Catholics in the UK and around the world love and support their Pope and have judged between truth and falsehood. They will definitely fight back using all democratic and peaceful means through the power of the ballot including in the forthcoming UK elections.

    Bill, Knutsford, England

    April 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Reply
  32. shadow_man

    The National Library of Medicine pubs confirm that sexual orientation is natural, biologically induced in the first trimester of pregnancy, morally neutral, immutable, neither contagious nor learned, bearing no relation to an individuals ability to form deep and lasting relationships, to parent children, to work or to contribute to society.

    From the American Psychological Association: homosexuality is normal; homosexual relationships are normal.

    The American Academy of Pediatrics, American Psychological Asociation and American Psychiatric Asociation have endorsed civil marriage for same-sex couples because marriage strengthens mental and physical health and longevity of couples, and provides greater legal and financial security for children, parents and seniors.

    America's premier child/mental health associations endorse marriage equality.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  33. shadow_man

    For those of you claiming homosexuality is a "lifestyle", that is a false and ignorant statement. Homosexuality is not a choice. Just like you don't choose the color of your skin, you cannot choose whom you are sexually attracted to. If you can, sorry, but you are not heterosexual, you are bi-sexual. Virtually all major psychological and medical experts agree that sexual orientation is NOT a choice. Most gay people will tell you its not a choice. Common sense will tell you its not a choice. While science is relatively new to studying homosexuality, studies tend to indicate that its biological.

    Gay, Straight Men's Brain Responses Differ

    There is overwhelming scientific evidence that homosexuality is not a choice. Sexual orientation is generally a biological trait that is determined pre-natally, although there is no one certain thing that explains all of the cases. "Nurture" may have some effect, but for the most part it is biological.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:41 pm | Reply
  34. David Emmanuel

    I do not approve off the icident but totally disagree with Ms: Rita Ben from India. Papacy is not a divine plan. We can judge the tree by its fruit.

    April 26, 2010 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  35. eugenicsbeginswithyou

    When does a joke go too far?


    April 26, 2010 at 5:14 pm | Reply
  36. PeaceMom54

    The Catholic Church's doctrine on sex and other issues may seem outdated but I don't care. Who said the Catholic Church had to do what society wanted? If that's the case, Jesus would not have preached change either. The Catholic Church is not a democracy.

    I am a Catholic and proud of it. I do struggle with a couple of the Church's teachings but instead of becoming a "cafeteria" Catholic, I choose to study why the Church teaches what it does and I pray on it.

    April 26, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Reply
  37. Taylor Green

    It's a joke. South Park was in trouble recently for making jokes about Muhammed, the muslim prophet. To be fair, they have made cracks about celebrities that I like. What they said annoyed me at the time, but then I rememberd what the rest of the world seems to have forgotten. IT'S A JOKE! People are WAY too up tight these days. While at college, I developed this philosophy: If you don't know how to react to something, then it's best just to laugh. If someone says something that you don't like, just ignore it. My mother taught me when I was 5 when my younger brother would get on my case. Stop being so up tight everyone. Learn to enjoy life and laugh!

    April 26, 2010 at 5:32 pm | Reply
  38. Michael

    This man really just needs to step down and not visit anywhere! He is NOT anything like Christ and an embarrassment to the Catholic Church and organized religion!

    April 26, 2010 at 5:38 pm | Reply
  39. Tom

    Of course it was intended as a joke. Anyone can see that. So obvious.

    April 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  40. Tom

    A joke ? The Catholic Church is a joke....and the Pope is its leader.

    April 26, 2010 at 5:47 pm | Reply
  41. Theres

    The person who leaked it and wrote it....should be fired. That to me is considered a "Hate Crime"...

    April 26, 2010 at 6:00 pm | Reply
  42. Pariah

    No person working as a professional should make such comments and as such should be fired. This also includes employees working for the public sector who should simply do their jobs and leave their personal opinions at home. If they have a strong opinion on such matters they can run for public office or join a protest on non-work hours.

    The catholic church has not said much, so they are taking this in stride, which is more that can be said for some other religions.

    April 26, 2010 at 6:12 pm | Reply
  43. Joe E Bugelli

    The three simple answers are:

    1. No, not a joke but rather an expression of personal bias.
    2. Even if it were a joke, poor taste in jokes only reflects poor judgement.
    3. An employee of the Foreign Office ought to know much better than cause such an embarassment to the government he/she is supposed to be "diplomatically" representing. Such an employee is either over his/her head or simply incompetent. Removed to another position that may be more in line with the person's IQ level is a prudent move. Heck, a cartoonist in Sweden is under a death fatwah for insulting Islam. This person should be thankful for insulting a forgiving member of the christian faith.

    April 26, 2010 at 6:16 pm | Reply
  44. Ron M

    When does a joke go too far? When it wears gold & ermine robes, red shoes, and a funny hat, then claims to be god's voice on earth. This went too far a LONG time ago.

    April 26, 2010 at 6:31 pm | Reply
  45. Bart Hawkins

    I find it amazing, in this ever-so politically correct world, that bashing Roman Catholics is a widely accepted prejudice.

    I don't know enough about Islam and Judiasm to be an authority, but if a formal memo was issued (by mistake) that mocked these faithful for, say, avoiding pork, this would be a memo that would echo around the world – a sounding brass, if you will – not with a whimper but with a bang (and perhaps a literal one, if Padma Lakshmi's ex-husband is any example).

    One has to wonder whether or not the ghost of Benny Hill has suddenly taken up residence in the British Foreign Office.

    April 26, 2010 at 6:41 pm | Reply
  46. james

    The joke was inappropriate. I personally don't consider the Pope to be holy. However, I believe that there is a place and time for humour as well as seriousness. In a professional context, the Pope's visit is a time for seriousness. If you're going to make jokes with your collegues in a time of seriousness, don't write them down. It's just professional darwinism.

    April 26, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Reply
  47. Carole

    I believe in freedom to express one's opinions and jokes. But, there is a time and a place for such expressions. There are protocols that every person ought to respect because they respect individuals and cultures and even religions. Employees, what ever the place of employment, should be held accountable for their actions which do not uphold the highest respect for the place they are employed. The Pope at the head of the Catholic church must be held accountable for how he handles the employees of his church for the actions of the employees, priests, who do not and did not respect young individuals. The Prime Minister must be held accountable for how he handles the employees of his government. If each head of any employing entity was held accountable for the actions of the employees and if they were held responsible for handling the actions early on, then maybe there would not be as much suffering, whether it came from a joke gone too far, or a terrorists attack. Where is integrity in this world?

    April 26, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  48. Daniel

    Fire the idiot who wrote this stupidity! Those who approve of this puerile behaviour do not live in the real world...As for bashing the Catholics, the self-righteousness of those who indulge in this bigotry are beneath contempt.

    April 26, 2010 at 8:03 pm | Reply
  49. bryan

    the expensive and the most gravest joke of the century on the Pontiff is one of the ugly side of the freedom of info most of the western world have found themselves in the modern world , for us on the other-side of the hemispher its a shame...God have mercy on the person(s)...

    April 26, 2010 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  50. Bill Robedee

    Lets get real: An irrational hatred of Catholicism has played an important role in the political history of Great Britain since the reformation and in the modern UK there has been a disappearance of religion in general going on for the last two generations, the memo clearly expresses both these majority currents and is unlikley a pure accident and is fair comment from the perspective of most UK citizens. But, before the Brits cast stones at the leaders, ceremonies, beliefs, and medieval quirks and foibles of other world religions they should address the quaint and comic spectacle of a nation with a clear majority of atheists in a modern democracy that bows to (and subsidizes) a monarchy which sits atop a state sponsored global religious empire (the "Church of England") of its own invention and from which it derives its alleged legitimacy. This is the real joke. As for the child abuse scandals, lets also get real, kids are getting raped often and everywhere and the Catholic Church and its clergy are no more likely than any other religion or profession that works with children to be rife with pedophiles and no more likely than any of those organizations to try cover up scandal. I refer my UK friends to a good book: Knowledge of Evil: Child Prostitution and Child Sexual Abuse in Twentieth-Century England for some great facts and figures to think about, its the very tiny tip of the iceberg of the data that is out there on this subject.

    April 26, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Reply
  51. s.v. ost

    most reasonable suggestions to a pope's visit I've ever heard of...

    April 26, 2010 at 8:46 pm | Reply
  52. John

    The idiots should get fired. If, however, the British public service is anything like the US, firing a vested public employee is next to impossible. I dont imagine that private sector employees would be given second chances. Instead, their next jokes would be made off company payroll.

    April 26, 2010 at 8:50 pm | Reply
  53. Mikey

    The pope and the church have no moral high ground to defend. Who cares if the memo made fun of the pope. For the damage he and his church have caused, he should be in jail and held accountable for the pedophile priests (redundant term) he employs.

    April 26, 2010 at 8:56 pm | Reply
  54. M Krohn

    Transferred my foot. That person should be summarily fired.

    I am not Catholic but I have many good friends who are. They are awesome folks and to make fun of their religious leader is insulting to them. Unless, of course one believes they are holier than thou.

    April 26, 2010 at 9:49 pm | Reply
  55. nothim

    hi all
    Should our religious leaders require us to behave like other religions or are we more sophisticated than that, I believe we are, we are certainly not living in that time when the inquisition was the power of the day, after all free speech is the requirement of any democracy even the unpleasant statements, so just accept there will be always people that you disagree with and as long as they have not broken any laws they must have the freedom to speak or write on whatever subject they wish, the trick is being strong enough in yourself not being affected by what they say.

    April 26, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Reply
  56. FM

    To Bill R.: Watch enough Monty Python lately?

    To the rest: I would take this as a joke if this wasn't an official government memo. I am Catholic and did have a good chuckle at it. Benedict brand condoms would be hilarious. But this isn't just some piece of satire. This is an official government document being sent to a foreign dignitary. As such it shows a complete and total lack of respect to a foreign head of state, and makes the people this one buffoon represents look bad. As such this memo has no room to condemn, nor endorse another government unless that is the purpose of the memo. Its just too bad its illegal to smack this guy with a herring.

    April 26, 2010 at 10:04 pm | Reply
  57. Alice Deighan

    The person or parties responsible should be terminated.

    April 26, 2010 at 10:38 pm | Reply
  58. midim

    The catholic church should not give publicity to the fool by reacting in anyway to the memo. The church had seen many of such mad men in history.

    April 27, 2010 at 12:37 am | Reply
  59. gbales

    "clearly ill-judged, naive and disrespectful"
    Disrespectful yes...... That's the whole point

    April 27, 2010 at 1:04 am | Reply
  60. Akhator henry oamhen


    April 27, 2010 at 5:53 am | Reply
  61. Bobo

    The joke was funny - if the Pope was offended (though I'm not so sure he was), then he needs to just get a life.
    Or maybe he needs to roll in the hay with a pro, huh ?? But he can't use condoms.

    August 3, 2010 at 7:03 pm | Reply
  62. Rileigh

    All of these articles have saved me a lot of heacadehs.

    July 25, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Reply

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