Meeting the Pope at Heathrow

 No wonder we had a complex. No wonder we had always been divided in our feelings towards continental Europe. We had a deep childhood sense of rejection

There we were on the tarmac at Heathrow as the papal jet prepared to land. The cameras were trained on the night sky. The red carpet was rolled out. The charming Foreign Office people tried for the umpteenth time to remind me where to stand – and all the while my mind was whirring with a single question. It is a problem that goes to the heart of the relationship between church and state. It is a question that will be studied by future generations of students of theology and patristics, because the answer we give – and the answer you give, off the top of your head – is an indication of the balance currently existing between the privileges of spiritual leaders and the egalitarian demands of our temporal world.

Never mind abortion or paedophile priests. As Pope Force One taxied towards us, there was one issue still revolving in my mind at the speed of a Rolls-Royce fan jet. Should the Popemobile be liable for the congestion charge and, if not, why not? Should the Holy Father have to pay £8 to drive through Westminster, like everyone else? Or should that fee be waived, in recognition of his status as the vicar of Christ on Earth? It is a tough one, and I am sure there will be clear-sighted readers of this paper who will take opposite views; and it is that very division of instinct that is so revealing about the psychology of this country.

It was an honour and a privilege to be asked to meet the Pope at Heathrow, and I had spent the previous couple of days thinking what to say. Some of my Catholic friends said I should kiss his ring. I think they were having me on. Some said I should speak in Latin, or try some disarming witticism. I attempted to cook up a gag about Dark Ages Britain being lost to the See of Rome, and how thrilled the hard-pressed Christian community was when Saint Augustine turned up. The punchline was going to be “long time no See”.

You will be relieved to know that I abandoned all these projects when I saw the man himself, his white hair glowing through the Alitalia porthole. Here he was, Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, the upholder of Catholic teaching in a morass of relativism, with his stern but interesting critique of our secular world. Here was I, the representative of a teeming megalopolis, a place where hard work and hedonism seemed to be the dominant ethics, and where some people were not just apathetic about the papal visit, but positively hostile.

I felt like a woad-painted savage suddenly confronted by an effulgent vision from Rome, and called upon to explain the religious back-sliding of the tribe. We went up from the tarmac into the Royal Suite, and after a procession of cardinals had said goodnight to the Pontiff, and after some opening pleasantries about Alitalia in-flight cooking, I seized the moment to say something about the schism at the heart of the British relationship with Rome.

“It all goes back to 410,” I said, when we were on the sofa. He looked tired but patient, like a tutor dealing with an especially obtuse and excitable pupil. I didn’t mean 10 past four, I didn’t mean teatime, I gabbled on. I meant 410 AD, the year the emperor Honorius announced that Britain could no longer be protected by the legions – the year we were effectively cut off from the empire. It was that fifth- century crisis, I blurted, that plunged us back into darkness and paganism. Britain was the only significant Roman province to be completely abandoned, after hundreds of years, to non-Christian barbarians.

No wonder we had a complex. No wonder we had always been divided in our feelings towards continental Europe. We had a deep childhood sense of rejection. It may have been just my paranoia, but I had a feeling the Pope stole a glance towards the door; and sure enough, someone was there to say that the cavalcade was ready to take him into town. “Very interesting,” he said kindly as we said goodbye, and I am naturally proud to have given His Holiness the opening paragraphs of my thesis, explaining as it does everything from Henry VIII to Euroscepticism and the general British ambivalence towards any great continental power, religious or political.

And I mean it. It is partly a function of that ambivalence that readers will (I bet) be split on the Popemobile/congestion charge issue. Some will say it is outrageous, that no one should be above the law. They will say that it is an obsequious kissing of the ruby-red papal shoes, a shameful genuflection, the like of which has not been seen since the Holy Roman emperor grovelled to the Pope at Canossa in 1077. And others will say: come off it, mate, this is the Pope – the leader of the oldest and largest organisation in the world, a man who speaks for the faith of a sixth of all mankind, the apostolic successor of Peter himself. What’s the point of being Pope, they will say, if you can’t be exempt from the congestion charge? Why should the people of London begrudge the Holy Father £8? To which the others will say, why should the Holy Father begrudge the people of London £8? They’ve got a bob or two in
the Vatican.

It is, you will appreciate, a grade-A political dilemma, of a kind we cowardly politicians are keen to shirk. So I was delighted when Transport for London’s traffic engineers – themselves a priestly caste – clarified the matter. We were not actually exempting the Popemobile, they explained. It was rather that the congestion charge was applied only to vehicles making “normal” use of the roads; and since the roads had been closed for the Popemobile, the charge did not apply. When the Pope was travelling in other vehicles through the London traffic, he and his retinue would most certainly pay, they said. So the Pope is only immune from the congestion charge when he sits in the Popemobile, just as he is only infallible when he sits in cathedra. TFL locutus est, as they say in Rome, causa finita est.

The article can be found in The Daily Telegraph

27 thoughts on “Meeting the Pope at Heathrow”

  1. We now live in a country that is proud to be home to many people of many religious and political beliefs.
    We accept people into England regardless of race and creed.

    So, The truth of the matter is,
    we are no longer ruled by the church.
    There are many different religions practiced in the uk, many of us (like myself) do not practise any religion at all. Perhaps catholics would not mind the pope visiting us and fronting the bill with their taxes however, i for one do not believe we should have to pay for the head of the catholic church to visit when we have no interest in him.

    I am all for religion when it is practised in a peaceful way and is not forced upon myself. However, i feel the fact that the pope should be allowed to visit and not pay the congestion charge and other such charges that britons are encounterd with everyday is disgraceful.

    It is not only the pope that should pay these charges but every visitor to the united kingdom. We cannot have one set of rules for British citizens and a whole new set for visitors!

    (wasn’t Tony Blair labeled a scrounger by the Italians for the very same thing? hmmmm…..)
    Everyone should have to pay these charges….
    Et Tu Pope Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI!

  2. Well it is a dilemma of your own making.

    My question is why should the roads be closed anyway. We pay for them several times over in road tax, fines and other taxes and yet we can’t use them because someone decides they are going on a day out and decides to come here. He should be paying the the exclusive use of the roads plus extra to compensate us for this.

    Nobody in a fair society would be treated any differently to another.

    Of course in our society some are more equal than others. Bring on the revolution.

  3. I find that with Cardinals, Archbishops and Metropolitans generally it is better to talk about food or football. They are usually tired of everybody trying to engage them on theology, morals or politics. I must admit that I have no success with Canterbury, however.

  4. Screaming all the national newspapers’ headlines: DON”T LET THE PC BRIGADE WRECK CHRISTMAS!

    ” The pope let rip at the PC knuckle-heads who deem Christmas offensive to other faiths and that public celebration of festivals such as Christmas should be discouraged.

    He urged his VIP audience of bigwigs to use their influence to help turn back a tide that has seen Christmas renamed Winterval…”

    No, hang on – it’s your country, isn’t? – so why do you had to wait until the Pope tell you how to run your country and then use him as an excuse, or worse, as a scapegoat?

    It’s the Labour Party who started all this PC nonsense. And po-faced Tony, Cherie, Brown and those anti-Christ socialists sat in the VIP audience listening to the Pope bashing them.

    Cherie wore all black, including a black net veil covering all her head – she must have felt very proud, thinking she was looking very sophisticated and was in the Godfather movie.

    The Queen wore a light blue suit BECAUSE she is on her home ground. The Queen only wears black when she travels to the Vatican to visit the Pope.

    Talk about anti-Christ socialists/ country pumpkins trying to be posh/ civilised.

  5. What I find sad about this whole discussion is this :  before the days of the Race Relations Act and this ridiculous multi-cultural-society rubbish — as in “I used to like them anyway before it became compulsory” — we would treat honoured guests of any origin courteously.

    The Pope was here not on a whim of his own but as a guest of Her Majesty ;  that is the nature of a state visit.  What ever any-one might think of his hierarchy’s actions in relation to paedophiles within its ranks or of the doctrines of the Roman-Catholic Church (and there were plenty of peaceful protests about these matters), one owed it to Her Majesty — not to say to one’s own self-esteem — to extend to his Holiness the courteous welcome he actually received and for which he expressed gratitude.

    The idea of his or the church’s being charged for entering London is as discourteous as it is ludicrous.

    That the motorist is vastly over-taxed and feels justifiably aggrieved at the closure of roads is another matter ;  one unrelated, however, to the Pope’s visit.


  6. Pericles, I agree with you. As an honoured guest, it was the courteous thing to absolve the Pope from the congestion charge.

    Apparently Boris told the Catholic Herald, he cancelled the charge in exchange for absolution. (!)

  7. That’s right! Why do you have to wait for the Holy Man to tell you what to do with your country before you will ever try to make a change; if you dare, that is ( insert sleepy face ) and conveniently blame it on Him? You know, the cowardice blame excuse: ” It’s The Pope said so. Don’t blame us! ” ?

    It’s your country. Protect it!

  8. Pericles, may I ask you something? You know that Boris said we can learn so much from the Greek classics? What can we learn from an extreme character like Medea?

    There are murderers who kill for love – in the US, Diane Downs tried to kill her children (one did die) for love of a man who wouldn’t marry her because “he didn’t want to be a daddy”. In the press recently, a man killed his kids and then his wife and himself, because she wanted to leave him. So this situation can occur occasionally, but I always thought the killers must be in the grip of some kind of madness.

    Jason betrayed Medea, and she had killed her brother for love of him. When Jason was going to marry someone else, she killed their children. What can we possibly learn from this psychotic behaviour in the name of love? How can it possibly be love, and Jason sounds like a smug git anyway?

    I am puzzling and I cannot think of one thing we can learn.

  9. AngelNeptuneStar, you are priceless !

    On the one paw I felt slightly saddened, reminded of those many instances — not many, of course ;  they just seem many because so enthusiastically reported by the media — of familial insanity that culminate in the wanton destruction of innocents through the torment of a parent rejected.

    On the other you cracked me up (Sorry, Tiresias :  another Americanism ;  well, I lived there for a while, so am excused the acquisition of bad habits.) with the bathos of your closing clause :  ‘… Jason sounds like a smug git anyway.’

    As to your question :  I think, above all, we should bear in mind that Medea is a figure from Greek mythology (and a character of Euripides’s conjuring) and — as a close friend oft reminds me — Greek mythology is just The Archers for the upper classes !

    I cannot but agree with you that killers such as you describe must be insane.  Multa longa I have no answer to your question ;  all we can do, I think, is to give thanks — to good fortune, the laws of physics or what ever supernal entity we see as governing the eternal round — that we retain our sanity.


  10. Pericles, I am glad to have provided you with amusement (heavy irony), no, I don’t mind people laughing at me, in fact, I enjoy it, we can chortle away together.

    Medea is obviously rather high maintenance (more irony) and she seems like one of those women who suck mens’ souls from their bodies, screaming “Love me back!”. Much as I sympathised with the unhappy childhood of Princess Diana, I have always thought it would have been far far better if she had accepted that her husband loved someone else, and made friends with him for the sake of her children, rather than launching all out war “because he didn’t love me!” You can’t make someone love you to command, and her attitude, if gentler, would have shown far more of real love than a war of attrition.

    But to hack your own brother to pieces and kill your kids out of spite…apparently Medea cut her brother up and scattered the pieces, as a diversion. Nice! You have to be deranged.

    The murderess I have quoted as an example, Diane Downs, was apparently a raving sociopath, unable to feel the slightest remorse for her crimes. She was unable to feel remorse. The links gives some of the characteristics of a sociopath. A deeply buried rage fuels these people.

    Pericles, Jason was a smug git. When faced with her anguish, he then outlined everything he had “done” for her. I would have slapped him silly. Boxing peoples’ ears is good, and you yell “You sanctimonious, hypocritical SOB, what the hell is wrong with you!”

    Mmm, so Greek tragedy was just like soap operas for the upper classes. Interesting. Pericles, you know so much, you have a DUTY to assist the poorly educated such as myself. Boris says we should volunteer and help others! I am waiting impatiently for another article by you to grace this website, how fascinating it would be if you compared Greek tragedy to modern soap operas.

    ps. I wonder if Boris knows anything else about what we can learn from these crazy murderers, he’s a bit tied up of course. I am very interested in why people kill and harm others. Also, if they are born sociopaths, can you argue they are not totally culpable?

    Boris is polling twice as many votes as both Ken and Oona King combined. It is just the beginning, but Boris is definitely in pole position for the forthcoming Mayoral election. Must point that out.

    It was very kind of you to reply to my question, thank you.

  11. Pericles, I agree that the Queen and the government are obliged to extend courtesy to a visiting head of state.
    But it has occurred to me that it was quite a cool scam that the Pope pulled off, in getting a fabulous amount of airtime and publicity, largely at the taxpayer’s and licence-payer’s expense. And since the politico-media complex was so nice about the Pope, I guess it was a pretty accomplished performance by the Vatican’s Cardinal Spin.
    Let’s face it, these guys need all the good publicity their brand can get.

  12. English people don’t either: ever wish to rename Chinese New Year, Al-Hijra ( Islamic New Year ) or Rosh Hashanah ( Jewish New Year ) etc… or do they find these celebrations offensive or do they ever wish to stop other races living in England from celebrating these special events.

    So what is so offensive about the word Christmas? This is England and English people have been celebrating Christmas for generations and generations. This is a Christian country after all.

    We are sick of folks who claim they welcome and tolerate all races and religions to this country. Surely, they can see that the English way of life has been gradually pushed aside ooooooooover the years to …. make room for the immigrants’ way of life. Examples:

    – Christmas has been renamed Winterval by the local councils as not to offend other races living in England.

    – Schools, hospitals, stadiums, restaurants, supermarkets, army caterers have been selling, serving people ritually slaughtered Islamic meats for a few years without warning them.

    So, maybe those smiling and welcoming folks who say ” Welcome to England! ” say so grudgingly and with a pain in their arse?

    We ain’t saying all immigrants are aggressive. In fact some groups took the trouble to learn the new way of life and blended in. Anyway, immigrants are a funny lot- they come here and claim that they were oppressed and bullied at home and they want asylum in this civilised and generous country.

    But once allowed to stay, they just want to keep their own way of life- they continue to dress as if they gonna to rob a bank, they support the ghouls who used to oppress and bully them at home, they don’t want to learn to be civilised, they don’t want to learn the new language ( if you can’t speak English, you can’t work, English people must give you unemployment benefit ), they don’t want their kids to learn the new way of life, they want them to learn and keep their old way of life etc…

    Australia, USA, Canada get the brains because they have strict immigration rules. England only gets scrap-of-the-barrow-quality-folks because anybody can get in.

  13. Wait, I ain’t finished yet. Even our HM prisons have to serve halal meats. I’m asking you- if those Islamic prisoners are so devout, why did they end up in prisons? Drugs, robbery, stealing, sexual assaults- that’s why.

  14. Yes Boris, it is the practice to kiss the Pope’s ring. What a coup that would have been had you done that when you met him.

  15. Pericles, glad to have provided you with some amusement.

    Jason is a smug git! He lectures her on all he has “done” for her, so annoying. I am still not sure that you are right that these killers are not insane. The psychological profile of Diane Downs said she was a sociopath. qualities of a sociopath are here. The total inability to feel guilt or feel empathy, the deep rage that fuels their crimes, callous behaviour, need for excitment, ability to manipulate, read the list. It seems to imply some illness that would absolve them to an extent from responsibility.

    To coldheartedly hack your brother into pieces, as a “distraction”, kill your kids out of spite….. a little bit OTT, isn’t it?

    I love the Pasolini film of Medea with Maria Callas. She has the passion for the role. But Jason is so annoying, he would push anyone over the edge, albeit temporarily.

  16. This one’s east Boris. Matthew Chapter 22 covers it:

    19: Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.

    20: And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?

    21: They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.

    I can see the conversation now…..

    Boris: Have you got £8 on you for the congestion charge?
    Pope: Er, but….
    Boris: Matthew Chapter 22 Verse 21 your Holiness.
    Pope:errrooaghhff oh go on then.

  17. But, AngelNeptuneStar, I was agreeing with you :  they must be insane.

    Many humans do as Mrs. Downs did to her family to harmless wild animals ;  yet our corrupt society excuses them.


  18. Oh I know what ya meant, Wally. Once granted asylum these so called political asylum seekers will just carry on supporting their London based embassies and the very regimes who they claimed had persecuted them while they were living in their own country.

    And once they got their hands on their new British passports, they just can not wait to travel back to their homeland on holiday to show off their new wealth to the poor folks back home. In fact, lots of them don’t even want to wait for 5 years before they can apply for British citizenship.

    Ya see, once granted asylum, they will be at once issued with a Travel Document which looks exactly like a passport. Inside it states clearly: As a political asylum seeker and holder of this Travel Document, you are allowed to travel to friendly EU and Commonwealth countries only. You are not allowed to travel to your own country as the Queen can not guarantee your safety over there.”

    But, these cunning political asylum seekers know how to beat the system. They just simply let their London based embassies to stamp the visa on a piece of scrap paper instead of stamping the visa in their Travel Document. They will then travel to a friendly EU country first, and from there they travel to their own country.

    Before their return, they will throw away the scrap paper with the incriminatory home country visa stamp on it, then they travel to a friendly EU country first, before they travel back to the UK.

    Once back in the UK, nobody can tell that they have been back to their home land because there is no home country visa stamps in their Travel Document, as this would seriously ruin their chance of being approved for British citizenship in the future.

    So who said these scrap the barrow quality immigrants, political asylum seekers are not brainy?

  19. Sorry Pericles, misread your reply. You said “I cannot but agree with you…..”

    There must be some deeper meaning to the story though. such an extreme love, to kill to punish someone, terrifying.

    Now Ed sympathises with Mrs. Downs! Ed, Diane Downs got life, but maybe you could start up a correspondence.

  20. Wrong woman, Angel. Age is getting to me. I had in mind the woman who put a cat in a wheelie bin. Embarrassing.

  21. Ed, haha, that’s the sort of mistake I usually make! I did think it was odd, because Diane Downs tried to murder her three kids. She succeeded with one, but only managed to shoot her toddler son through the spine, so he never walked again, and the other little girl recovered. Hideous case.

    I thought, blimey, Ed is tolerant. I was expecting to hear you had dropped the lady a line in jail, like women that fall in love with men on Death Row.(chortle)

  22. ps. I wonder how long it took Boris to decide on the best way to cheek the Pope? Notlong, probably, considering what an experienced cheeker he is.

  23. Great comment by Boz.

    I find the image of Boris as a “woad-painted savage” deliciously exciting. Roll on Beltane!

  24. It’s interesting that at the bottom of the Daily Express’s article ‘ How Migrants Snatched Our Homes ‘ there is a sign thats says ‘ “Have Your Say” is unavailable for this story ‘ !!!

    We wonder why this serious problem only happens in this country and not anywhere else in the EU. Is it that because this country is full of lager louts, yobs and football hooligans and cowards who are only good at picking on innocent decent people of their own? They vandalise people’ cars and kill people when they come out and complain. Where are they when we need them to sort out the illegal camping gypsies and NOW these violent house-snatching Lithuanians + Eastern Europeans? Are they too scared even to walk pass these thugs?

    Well even the British bobbies are scared of these foreign thugs! Shame!

    Why isn’t this happening in, say Italy or Spain? Because the Italian and Spanish house owners would use violence to chase these house snatching thugs out of their house in a flash. With support from their local police too.

  25. Why did you give the link to the Daily Express’s How Migrants Snatched Our Homes – Lithuanians moved in while house owners are out – 2 thumbs down?

    How would you feel if this happened to you? Surely you are not a Saint?

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