I've spoken today to bishops, and to people who have also spoken to bishops, about yesterday's story (see my post) on next year's papal visit to the UK, which will be only the second in British history (the first was John Paul II's in 1982).
What I've learned:
1. Both Rome and the Church in the UK were caught off guard by the story, which seems to have come from the prime minister's staff in New York - whether inadvertently is not clear. (But if it wasn't, they didn't co-ordinate with the Church in London).
2. The Vatican was planning to announce next year's papal visit in December -- and may even now decide to say nothing until then. Hence the Archbishop of Westminster's careful proviso yesterday -- "We are encouraged and pleased at the news which has emerged about the possible official visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the UK next year." (This does not mean the Pope might not come. It means Archbishop Nichols does not want to bounce Rome into confirming the visit until they're ready).
3. The statement also makes clear that a state visit and a pastoral visit are essentially the same thing. "We are glad the Holy Father is giving such consideration to the invitations he has received from Her Majesty's Government," says Archbishop Nichols, "which accord closely to the wishes and requests also expressed by the Bishops of England & Wales." In other words, by the time it is announced, the itinerary will have been fully agreed by both Church and state.
4. Details are very far from being finalised, so stories that Pope Benedict will celebrate Mass in Wembley Stadium or go to Northern Ireland and Scotland or beatify Cardinal Newman are at this stage speculative.
5. But one very senior figure in the Church in England and Wales says the Pope will not beatify Cardinal Newman on his visit, because Benedict XVI has chosen not to do local beatifications, only canonisations in Rome. On the other hand, says the same source, the visit will be heavily "Newman-themed".
I'm going to take a punt: the itinerary, when it is announced, will include a papal address on Newman at the Sheldonian Theatre, Oxford. I know that the idea has been mooted. The rest is a guess: that the academic theologian in him will not be able to resist the idea -- and nor will the university. The peg, of course, will be Newman. Oxford is where he was well known. As an Anglican.