PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC — Barely had the Spray-Shine dried on his glittery new red pumps, than the newly incarnated Card. Ratziger, as Pope Benedict XVI used to be known to friends, began negotiations for a visit from the Holy See to the Queen of England and Her See. The final Is were dotted and Ts were crossed with the Pope finally agreeing to supply the Royal Tea.
To that end, hordes of Indian tea pickers have been dispatched to Assam where the tiny tea leaves make the world’s most Royal Tea (according to Elton John).
I caught up with the Pope’s entourage on a quickly arranged Vatican trip to Prague. I wanted to ask about this change of protocol and the time it took.
The personal envoy to B-dict, as the new pope likes to be called informally, said, “Even the pope can’t work miracles that quickly. It’s not just a flick of the wrist around here anymore, you know.
“There are scads of back-and-forth airplane trips to settle these delicate matters” he continued. “I am Jonesing here in the Vatican for a Twitter account to use as a back-channel for all these pesky negotiations, but B-dict thinks he’s not ready for all that techno-babble. He feels that not everyone has gotten over that little King James Version Bible incident yet. Especially not the Queen.”
I asked for clarification and the envoy, 34 year-old former waiter and papal intimate Rodolfo Casel, said that “B-dict feels that the Vatican needs to be seen not as the cutting-edge of religion in the world, but rather as the edge that cuts. It’s his papal philosophy from his early German days as one of the youth party’s faithful. So right now, it’s best for the Vatican to not follow the flow. He wants to be known as the live fish in the stream of things.”
The Pope, whose popularity among Roman Catholics has dropped after a bunch of sex scandals in Italy, was looking for a way to change the subject in Rome. Especially the scandals of his friend and Holy See benefactor, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who gave Him such a grand send-off on this almost overnight trip to Prague from Rome’s Ciampino Airport.
In the Czech Republic, of course He will offer mass to the dwindling millions of faithful, but there is a small issue of WWII Communist-confiscated church property, which Roman Catholic Church officials mark-to-market at about $15 bn. Since payment has never passed Parliament, B-dict is finally going to ask for a check.
Rodolfo adds “He loves to play on words, the cunning remark. This expensive junket out of Rome and back is well worth His just being able to say to them, ‘Give me a check.’ Now, he really doesn’t mean this is the a personal way. He just enjoys being light-hearted when there is serious talk on the table.”
One way of paying the Pope is proposed by a dissident Czech group, Condom Positive. They plan to distribute condoms (at 3 for €6.50) with a likeness of the pope on the package and the question, “Papa no! And You?”
I asked envoy Rodolfo Casel if this meets the approval of His Holiness. “Hell, yes. He’s coming out for it because Berlusconi has told Him it’s either “get behind those Czech condoms or I’ll be checkin’ your behind.” And B-dict has no intention of going there again.”
I wanted to ask about the English Tea Party trip coming in the fall. Rodolfo was very willing to continue our conversation.
Why, I asked, did the Pope work so hard towards this visit to the British Isles. “He wants to right wrongs in the world, no matter when they were committed. He feels that a particular tragedy for England was the ruthless attempt by the government way back then to silence the voice of the Church,” he said.
“B-dict believes” said Rodolfo, “that until his predecessor J-Paul II made his glorious six-day visit to the UK in 1982, no pope dared to set foot on British soil since the Reformation. Hank 8 broke with Rome to do that shabby Church of England in 1534. No one thought it would stick. Well time passes quickly. A few popes later and it’s his turn.
“He felt it was time that Britain stop being regarded as a rebellious outpost of the Catholic world.” You know,” said Rodolfo, “it just isn’t good global marketing of your product when the second most important world power is seen as not paying attention to the Vatican.”
He smiled as he ashamedly lit a cigarette. “Prague is one of the few world-class cities left where you can still smoke everywhere. B-dict likes the odd cigarette too, but His Holiness can’t be seen standing 15 feet outside just any front door now can He?’
Back to the negotiations, I said. “Yes, of course. The Brits were so damned fussy about such silly details this time around. They have had two Bush encounters on their soil and they were in that “twice fooled, twice…well you know what I mean. Real edgy. Gordon Brown was told that B-dict accepted his invitation to visit and the Queen was informed. You’d think that was the end. HA. Oh no!”
What happened next was not to be believed. Brown first said that there would be no time to discuss any issues about a full-blown Europe-wide spiritual revolt against this creeping populist secularism, hedonism and moral relativism. Now this is B-dict’s big fish in the pond, you know?”
“‘No,’ said Brown. ‘Pope Benedict XVI is to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps’ are his exact words.”
Rodolfo said that B-dict screamed at him, “All that happened in 1982, after hundreds of years, was that millions flocked to catch a glimpse of J-PII in his Popemobile as he toured the country holding papal masses for Britain’s four million Catholics. That’s it. Well, any f’in priest can hold mass. I am God’s Priest.'”
I asked what this Pope intended and Rodolfo said “B-dict plans to reinstate the excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I to church membership denied by Pope St. Pius V in 1570.”
“His plans are to renege on the St. Pius V bull with His own 21st century bull, De-bullis in Excelsis declaring the first Elizabeth not a heretic, as said the Pius bull. He also intends to restore any excommunicated British Catholics who obeyed her orders at the time and are still alive. They will no longer be deprived of the sacraments.”
“He also will begin a new espress procedure of canonization for the outstanding actresses Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett for their film portrayals of Elizabeth. Neither films mentioned her murderous treatment of Catholics.” Rodolfo related. “That will be some Mass, B-dict blessing Helen Mirren and Cate Blanchett in front of millions. And they aren’t even Catholic. How’s that for ecumenism?”
“We tried to get Dame Judith Dench, but she says she will be away filming and won’t be able to make the trip back. How does she know this 18 months ahead?
“Anyway, during this visit, B-dict said he will not mention that the Catholic Church is on the rise in England while the Church of England is crumbling.” Rodolfo grinned and said, “Eternal approval beats public popularity every time.”
I also noted that in the preparation notes for the England visit, Pope Benedict plans to remove the Pius V mandate of the death penalty for priests who were guilty of sodomy. He will adhere to the modern attitude that priests are exempt from civil law. Rodolfo had left by then, so I couldn’t check this fact.