by Peter Wozniak
The chorus of opposition surrounding the Pope's upcoming state visit to the UK increased on Wednesday as 56 public figures co-signed a letter condemning the trip.
The letter, whilst recognising the Pope's right to tour the UK in his capacity as a religious leader, rejected the Papal mantle of head of state as a "merely a convenient fiction to amplify the international influence of the Vatican".
The signatories include Stephen Fry, author Terry Pratchett, Lord Faulkes and comedian Ed Byrne.
The letter listed a series of charges against the Pope that in the eyes of the signatories disqualify him from making a state visit, including:
"Opposing the distribution of condoms and so increasing large families in poor countries and the spread of Aids. Promoting segregated education. Denying abortion to even the most vulnerable women. Opposing equal rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people. Failing to address the many cases of abuse of children within its own organisation."
Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association (BHA), commenting on the letter, said: "Today's letter raises issues, including the Holy See's position to deny abortion to any woman, to oppose gay equality and to disrupt the distribution of condoms in AIDS prevention programmes.
"We believe this letter reflects the views of many British people, who object to the state visit of the Pope not only on financial grounds, but have clear principled objections to extending the honour of a state visit to the head of a state which seeks to impose its religious doctrine internationally, even trying to influence our own domestic equality laws in ways that go against the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law."
In a press conference on Tuesday, the organisers of the Protest the Pope campaign condemned the visit in strong language.
Keith Porters-Wood, president of the National Secular Society referred the Church's policy on condoms as "tending to the genocidal".
Peter Tatchell, another signatory of the letter, added: "It would be very wrong for our government to welcome him without first dissociating from his extreme views".
Controversy over the visit has built up steadily as the trip approaches, with opponents arguing that the Pope's views don't represent British Catholics, and the costs borne by the taxpayer for security and other elements of the visit are unjustified.
Polling has suggested that while many of the views expressed by the Pope are not widely shared among Catholics in the UK, a majority still expect the Pope's visit to improve the image of the Church in Britian.
The prime minister issued a video message on Tuesday saying that the Pope would receive "a warm welcome".
The head of the Catholic Church is due to arrive in the UK on Thursday, first visiting Scotland, and due to appear in Twickenham, central London and Birmingham over the course of the weekend.
A series of protests are planned, the largest being a march from Hyde Park to Downing Street on Saturday.