Pope may be invited on BBC’s Thought for the Day

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The BBC is in talks with the Pope for him to give the Thought of the Day on Radio 4’s Today programme.

The Pope is to visit the UK in September and BBC director-general Mark Thompson, a devout Catholic, is understood to have visited the Vatican to discuss BBC coverage of the trip.

The daily message can be given by people of any faith and serves to reflect on issues of the day with a religious slant.

Mark Damazer, the controller of Radio 4, has long hoped to secure the Pope for Thought of the Day.

The Daily Telegraph reports that he said: “Mark [Thompson] knows of my aspiration and we have spotted the coincidence between my desire to have the Pope and the Pope being here.”

Mr Damazer said he was not involved in asking the Pope to record the message.

He added: “I think Mark Thompson is better qualified than me on two grounds: being director-general, and his religion.”

News of the Pope’s visit has provoked anger from gay and secular campaigners who have criticised his record of outspoken remarks.

In the last few years, the Pontiff has attacked gay marriage, abortion rights, euthanasia and the use of condoms to prevent AIDS.

He also took the opportunity to criticise the UK’s equality legislation recently, saying it violated “natural law” and urging bishops to stand up against it.

The National Secular Society argued that the Pope should be questioned about his views by Today presenter John Humprys.

President Terry Sanderson said: “The Pope will have a three minute slot to lecture us about morality, but no-one will be able to challenge anything he says. Why won’t he be invited to take the 8.10am interview slot on the Today programme with John Humphrys? And let’s have a bit of finger-wagging the other way.

“Perhaps the BBC could ask listeners to send in the questions they’d like the Pope to answer – about the Vatican’s shameful cover up of child abuse by its priests and its cruel ban on condoms in the fight against AIDS, for instance. There are a lot of questions to be answered, but all we’re going to get from the BBC is propaganda.”

In the last few years, the BBC has rejected calls to allow secular voices on Thought for the Day.