A top aide to Pope Benedict is skipping tomorrow's trip to Britain after telling a German magazine that "when you land at Heathrow you think at times you have landed in a Third World country." As the BBC reports, German-born Cardinal Walter Kasper said the UK, where the pope is due to begin a four-day visit tomorrow, exhibits "a new and aggressive atheism." Kasper wasn't all down, adding: "Everyone who knows England knows that there is also a great Christian tradition there."
The Vatican backpedaled, calling Kasper's comments "slightly clumsy" but attributing his absence to illness, not controversy. "His comments do not represent the views of the Vatican, nor those of Bishops in this country. They are the personal views of one individual," said a spokesman. The controversy is the last thing Benedict needed: Organizers now say they expect 55,000 people at his main event, down from 80,000, notes AP.