Last week, the founder of St Anselm’s Institute in Margate, a Catholic institute that trains foreign priests and religious in evangelisation and leadership, said that the Home Office’s handling of visa applications had amounted to “mental torture” in recent years.

Fr Kofler explained that a Catholic priest was recently refused a visa by the Home Office to study at the institute because he wasn’t married. A nun was also denied entry to Britain because (as a consequence of belonging to a religious order) she did not have a personal bank account. These are regulations which simply don’t work for priests and religious.

The situation has proved so unbearable that after 33 years Fr Kofler is moving his institute to Rome where he believes it will be given more support.

Fr Kofler says: “All our priests and religious are sent to train and go back to their own countries after their studies. I think it’s a total misunderstanding and religious illiteracy from the Home Office. At the age of 82, I am no longer able to work in a situation where my hands are bound due to the Home Office’s inability to function. To work in that mess is not my desire any longer.”

But religious illiteracy is not just confined to the Home Office. In 2010, prior to Benedict XVI’s visit, Foreign Office officials were left red-faced when a mocking memo was leaked in which staff had suggested the state visit could be marked by the launch of “Benedict condoms”.

Other ideas included the pope blessing a gay marriage and opening an abortion clinic during his visit to Britain.

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