The Vatican tends to move a little bit behind the times. It was nearly 360 years after Gallileo was put on trial for heresy that the Church finally conceded it had been wrong to dismiss his contention that the Earth rotated around the Sun. And so yesterday's news that the Holy See had finally come round to The Beatles, a mere 45 years after first finding itself at odds with the Fab Four, was, if anything, ahead of schedule.
But demonstrating the same gracious streak that allowed it to overcome its tiff with the father of modern astronomy, the Vatican, which is embroiled in a clerical paedophile scandal of seismic proportions, has declared the band members' "dissolute" lives – and, of course, John Lennon's immodest claim that by 1966 the Liverpool beat combo was "bigger than Jesus" – lay in the past, "while their music lives on".
Fulsome tributes to the Fab Four appeared in two articles in its L'Osservatore Romano newspaper together with a front-page cartoon reproducing the zebra crossing walk immortalised on the cover of the band's album Abbey Road.
"It's true, they took drugs; swept up by their success, they lived dissolute and uninhibited lives," said the paper. "They even said they were more famous than Jesus. But, listening to their songs, all of this seems distant and meaningless. Their beautiful melodies, which changed forever pop music and still give us emotions, live on like precious jewels."
Giovanni Maria Vian, the paper's editor-in-chief, said yesterday that John Lennon's controversial remark demonstrated how even celebrities were fascinated by Jesus, and wasn't as scandalous as some people had made out.
There had been previous signs that the Catholic Church was edging towards a reconciliation with popular culture's most enduring icons.In a move that some saw as a conscious attempt to broaden its appeal to people below the age of 60, a couple of years ago it praised The Beatles' White Album.
Then in February this year the Vatican paper included Revolver in its "semi-serious" list of top 10 albums, along with three other acts not entirely untouched by suggestions of either sexual scandal, drug use or rock'n'roll debauchery by listing Michael Jackson's Thriller, Pink Floyd's The Dark Side of the Moon, and (What's the Story) Morning Glory by Oasis.
And if the Church has made its step towards The Beatles, one of the surviving members of the band has made a move in the opposite direction. Earlier this year, Ringo Starr declared that God was now "in his life".
* Catholic priests suspected of abusing children should "always" be reported to the police and face justice in the courts, the Vatican has said.
In an attempt to show that the Holy See is striving to respond to the worldwide sex abuse crisis rocking the Catholic Church, the Vatican published on its website its guidelines for handling predator priests.
The short set of rules, published in English, is an attempt to satisfy critics who have accused the Church of covering up some of the dozens of abuse cases that have come to light in the US and Europe in recent months.