Behind his smile, the Pope remains scornful of the English

The Pope has just said that the Queen and her predecessors have been living a sort of lie
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The Queen will spend only half an hour with the Pope tomorrow, as an interlude in her state visit to Italy. Yet it is 30 minutes during which tiny steps of reconciliation could be taken. It can be a routine occasion, or it can be something else.

The Queen will spend only half an hour with the Pope tomorrow, as an interlude in her state visit to Italy. Yet it is 30 minutes during which tiny steps of reconciliation could be taken. It can be a routine occasion, or it can be something else.

For remember how much the Vatican still dislikes England. Yes, England herself and her monarchs, not Scotland, not Wales; the English are the object of successive popes' scorn. Just a few weeks ago, the language of Pius V's excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I in 1570 was used again, albeit in less archaic form. Mark the words. The first Elizabeth was described as "the pretended Queen of England, the serpent of wickedness".

Yet see how this 16th-century phrasing was picked up again in the Declaration Dominum Jesus published by the Vatican last month. This dealt with unity between the churches. It stated that institutions such as the Church of England "are not Churches in the proper sense," and that those who are baptised in such communities are "imperfect". Has much changed between the "pretended" of the 1570 excommunication on the one hand and the "not Churches in the proper sense" and "imperfect communion" of September this year?

The harsh words of the Declaration are quite breathtaking in their arrogance. The Pope will doubtless greet the Queen with a friendly smile. But what he has just said to the monarch in her role as Supreme Governor of the Church of England is that she and her predecessors have been living a sort of lie, indeed that the whole apparatus of the Church of England, with its bishops, priests and curates, with its millions of members attending services and being baptised, married and buried in their faith, that all this is improper, imperfect and, to take another phrase from the Declaration, "defective". For nearly 500 years, the English and their rulers have been the victims of delusion.

This is what I believe the Declaration means when it states that: "The Christian faithful are therefore not permitted to imagine that the Church of Christ is nothing more than a collection - divided, yet in some way one - of Churches and ecclesial communities; nor are they free to hold that today the Church of Christ nowhere really exists and must be considered only as a goal... in fact the elements of this already-given Church exist, together in their fullness in the Catholic Church and, without this fullness, in the other communities."

One should not dismiss the Queen's meeting tomorrow as purely ceremonial. Because there will be no discussion of papal infallibility, nor the divinity of the Virgin Mary, nor of the Real Presence in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, it doesn't mean that the occasion will be pointless. Ceremony can be used to convey meaning quite as well as words. In Catholic ritual, for instance, colours have significance. Thus the convention has been that when queens obedient to Rome, daughters of the Church, visit the Pope, they wear white; on the other hand, non-Catholic royalty must dress in black - are they not black sheep?

Indeed, the Queen has worn black on her previous visits. However, it is rumoured that this time she may choose pastel colours. I very much hope she does. What a wonderful statement that would be, neither the white of the bride nor the black of the bereaved.

It was also a good suggestion that the Queen and the Pope should pray together. Like the Queen's reluctance to wear black, saying the same prayers would be a powerful symbol. But now, apparently, the idea has been dropped. It is feared that kneeling side by side would annoy extreme Protestants, including those who support the Reverend Ian Paisley. And in the minds of the more timid advisers, such an act would also draw undue attention to the Queen's constitutional supremacy over the national church.

Who are these advisers, by the way? It seems pretty clear that the Archbishop of Canterbury has not been among them. His spokesman was confused: "I don't see how the Church of England would be involved. This is a private visit." As a matter of fact, a private visit would be a remarkable occurrence; but this is a state visit. And the spokesman's phrase - "I don't see how the Church of England would be involved" says everything about British constitutional arrangements. The Queen is advised by government ministers, in this case the Foreign Secretary, and not by mere archbishops.

So this week in Rome, briefly, a Protestant monarch will confront, graciously, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, High Pontiff of the Universal Church. Both will be accompanied by their entourages - perhaps a Foreign Office minister, certainly an ambassador on the one side; cardinals and monsignors on the other.

It seems virtually impossible that anything unplanned should take place. Nonetheless, I hope that the monarch and the pontiff will somehow find the words to show that, after nearly 500 years, each tradition respects the other.

aws@globalnet.co.uk

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