A company selling papal visit T-shirts and hoodies has been in talks with police after receiving anti-Catholic abuse online.
Staff at Catholics with Attitude, which makes hooded tops with slogans such as “Team Benedict”, “Vatican All Stars”, and “I Love Papa Benny”, said they were “stunned” by the messages.
They said they were particularly worried because one message referred to a specific member of staff by name.
A spokesman said: “We took one look at it and thought: cops. It was not quite a threat, but it definitely had the intention of causing alarm.”
The messages, he said, referred to Catholics as “brainwashed” and “nutters”.
“We normally just get messages from people saying their jumper has arrived and they think it’s fantastic,” he said.
“It was distressing because we did not know who this person was or what they would be capable of. What would make someone want to do this?”
He said after talking about it they decided “it wasn’t us who should be going away and hiding just because we are living a Christian lifestyle”.
Staff had two meetings with police, but it is understood that no action is being taken.
The abuse came just as the company experienced a sharp rise in sales thanks to media coverage of papal visit merchandise. The spokesman said the sale of their “Team Benedict” range of hoodies had risen by a quarter over the last week or so.
But he urged Catholics to buy souvenirs from the official papal visit shop as well, saying they were not trying to compete. “I’ve got my eye on one of their jackets,” he said.
The official store opened last week, and offers everything from rosaries and prayer cards to fridge magnets and a Swarovski crystal bracelet.
Pilgrims planning to line the streets can kit themselves out with T-shirts, baseball caps and papal flags. For the Hyde Park vigil, an electronic flashing candle is available for £3.
Some of the products can also be customised so that parishioners attending a papal event together will be able to personalise flags or T-shirts.
The best-selling items so far, according to IVS, the merchandiser, are the programme, a pin badge and a Pope Benedict XVI T-shirt.
Profits from their sale will go to the Church in England, Wales and Scotland to help pay for the Pope’s visit.
Mgr Andrew Summersgill, papal visit co-ordinator, said the souvenirs would be available at big papal events as well as online.
For the Pope’s trip to America in 2008, the official merchandiser produced more than 200,000 items, including mugs, bags and a teddy bear wearing the official papal visit T-shirt. One of the most popular souvenirs, the “bobble-headed Pope”, was not part of the official range.