ROME (Reuters) - A senior Papal adviser has pulled out of the Pope's visit to Britain due to illness only days after comparing England to a "Third World country," a Vatican spokesman said on Wednesday.
Cardinal Walter Kaspar made the remarks to German news magazine Focus in an interview published at the weekend.
"England today is a secularized and pluralist country. When you land at Heathrow airport, you sometimes think you've landed in a Third World country," he was quoted as saying.
Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the cardinal's comments should not be seen as negative and they referred to the broad mixture of people of many different origins living in a metropolis such as London.
"A cosmopolitan reality, a melting pot of contemporary humanity, with its diversity and its problems," he said in an emailed statement.
He said Cardinal Kaspar was not going on the trip because he had been quite sick for most of the summer and his doctors had advised him not to travel.
"As far as the reference to atheism is concerned, this clearly refers to the position of some well-known authors who take particularly aggressive positions dressed up in scientific or cultural argumentation which in reality do not have the value which they claim," he said.
The visit to Britain by Pope Benedict, who arrives in Scotland on Thursday, has already attracted controversy over the cost to taxpayers and the scandal of sexual abuse of children by priests in several European countries.
Writing by James Mackenzie; Editing by Charles Dick