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EXCLUSIVE: No senior royal family members are expected to attend funeral of Pope Benedict XVI: Education Secretary will be Britain’s most senior representative at event

  • No senior members of royal family will be attending Pope Benedict XVI’s funeral
  • MP Gillian Keegan and the head of the Catholic Church in England will be going
  • Other senior European royals will be attending the ceremony at the Vatican

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The UK’s highest representative at the funeral of controversial Pope Benedict XVI will be Education Secretary Gillian Keegan – with no members of the royal family expected to attend.

Keegan, will join cardinal Vincent Nichols the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, for the ceremony on Thursday morning at the Vatican, in what some insiders have seen as a snub to the German born pontiff who died last Saturday aged 95.

MailOnline understands no senior members of the Royal Family will be in Rome for the event, which is expected to draw a global TV audience of hundreds of millions as it is beamed live around the world.

Other senior European royals – including Queen Sofia of Spain and King Philippe of Belgium will be at the open air Mass which will take place in St Peter’s Square along with other Catholic noibility.

A Vatican insider said: ‘Although no one was realistically expecting King Charles to attend, it was hoped that perhaps a junior member of the Royal Family would have attended the funeral Mass, especially given King Charles poignant tribute to Francis when he died.’

No senior members of the royal family are expected to attend the funeral of controversial Pope Benedict XVI

No senior members of the royal family are expected to attend the funeral of controversial Pope Benedict XVI

The funeral will be held on Thursday at St. Peter¿s Square in Vatican City and will be presided over by Pope Francis

The funeral will be held on Thursday at St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City and will be presided over by Pope Francis

The UK's highest representative at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI will be Education Secretary Gillian Keegan

The UK’s highest representative at the funeral of Pope Benedict XVI will be Education Secretary Gillian Keegan

Speaking of Benedict – who was dubbed the Panzer Cardinal or God’s Rottweiller for his hardline stance – Charles praised the former Pope’s efforts to ‘promote peace’ between Catholic and Protestant communities, adding that he had received the news ‘with deep sadness.’

Charles also recalled Benedict’s historic tour of the UK in 2010 when the Pope also met the late Queen and said: ‘His visit to the United Kingdom in 2010 was important in strengthening the relations between the Holy See and the United Kingdom.’

The insider added: ‘Unless there is a last minute change of plan as far as we are aware the only representative from the UK will be the Education Secretary Gillian Keegan who as far as we know isn’t even Roman Catholic.’

She will be among more than 100,000 mourners due to attend the service which will be led by current Pope Francis in an open-air ceremony in St Peter’s Square.

The Tory MP for Chichester was a close friend of murdered Catholic MP Sir David Amess, and last October she visited Pope Francis in Rome following a memorial service for her colleague who was stabbed to death at a constituency surgery in 2021.

Writing in her local paper of the meeting she said how she was ‘thinking of him and it was thanks to Sir David’ that she ‘had one of the most incredible experiences when I had the opportunity to meet with his Holiness, Pope Francis at the Vatican’.

Queen Sofia of Spain and King Philippe of Belgium were among the first foreign royals to announce their attendance at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI's funeral this week (pictured, Queen Sofia)

Queen Sofia of Spain and King Philippe of Belgium were among the first foreign royals to announce their attendance at Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI’s funeral this week (pictured, Queen Sofia) 

King Philippe of Belgium and his wife Queen Mathilde will also travel to the Vatican for the event

King Philippe of Belgium and his wife Queen Mathilde will also travel to the Vatican for the event

She added: ‘It was a huge honour to meet the Pope, an experience that will stay with me for ever. I am particularly grateful to his Holiness, as he also blessed a photograph of my nephew, Joseph, who’s recently had some serious health concerns’.

Last month she blamed ‘inverted snobbery’ after she was slammed for wearing a £10,000 Rolex watch while talking about nurses relying on foodbanks if they have ‘been dumped or their boiler has broken’.

No members of the British royal family will be participating but European nobility including Queen Sofia of Spain and King Philippe of Belgium will be there.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, and the leader of Britain’s Roman Catholic community will also be at the funeral and is expected to take part in the service.

Benedict died last Saturday aged 95 and made history in 2013 when he became the first Pope to retire in office in 600 years.

The ‘simple’ service will begin at 9.30am and is expected to have a TV audience of millions and it will be unique as the current Pope will lead the funeral of a former Pontiff.

Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Marktl, Germany , will lie in state until Wednesday and his funeral will be held on Thursday

Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger in Marktl, Germany , will lie in state until Wednesday and his funeral will be held on Thursday

His body has been lying in state inside St Peter’s since Monday and more than 130,000 people have filed silently past to pay their respects.

Only Germany – where Pope Benedict was born – and Italy, will be sending official delegations to the funeral and other dignitaries attending will be there in a private capacity.

Readings at the service will be in Italian, Latin, Spanish and English while prayers will be said in Pope Benedict’s native German.

Despite Vatican officials the service will be ‘simple’ the funeral will be similar to that of a reigning Pope who died on office, with his body having three caskets.

The first will be cypress wood, then zinc and finally a wooden coffin and his Papal regalia will be added for the funeral – he has not been wearing it while lying in state as a nod to the fact he is no longer in office.

A spokesman said a written account of his eight years as Pope from 2005 to 2013 will be buried with him along with Vatican coins carrying his profile.

Sombre images show the late Pope Benedict XVI lying in state in St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican

Sombre images show the late Pope Benedict XVI lying in state in St Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican

After his retirement Pope Benedict – who was dubbed the Panzer Cardinal and God’s Rottweiler for his hardline stance – spent most of his time in a monastery within the Vatican and was rarely seen.

The last funeral for a Pope was in 2005, when Pope John Paul II was buried and more than four million people packed into Rome for the event with former PM Tony Blair and Prince Charles among mourners.

Pope Benedict has been lying in state inside St Peter’s since Monday and the Vatican has released pictures of him dressed in his robes, holding rosary beads and lying on a simple dais.

His body will be moved from inside the Basilica to the square outside early on Thursday morning and following the funeral he will be taken back inside buried in the crypt containing other Popes.

Among those who have paid their respects is controversial Hungarian PM Viktor Orban who was later pictured ticking into a lavish seafood platter at a beachside restaurant on the outskirts of Rome.

Source: Daily Mail UK

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