guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 22 September 2010 17.11 BST
Should Joseph Ratzinger have been welcomed with all the pomp and ceremony due to a head of state? No. As Geoffrey Robertson has shown in The Case of the Pope, the Holy See's claim to statehood is founded on a Faustian deal in which Benito Mussolini handed over 1.2 square miles of central Rome in exchangefor church support of his fascist regime. Our government chose the occasion of the pope's visit to announce their intention to "do God". As a friend remarked to me, presumably we should expect the imminent handover of Hyde Park to the Vatican, to clinch the deal?
Should Ratzinger, then, be welcomed as the head of a church? By all means, if individual Catholics wish to overlook his manytransgressions and lay out the red carpet for his designer red shoes, let them do so. But don't ask the rest of us to pay. Don't ask the British taxpayer to subsidise the propaganda mission of an institution whose wealth is measured in the tens of billions: wealth for which the phrase "ill-gotten" might have been specifically coined. And spare us the nauseating spectacle of the Queen, the Duke of Edinburghand assorted lord lieutenants and other dignitaries cringing and fawning sycophantically all over him as though he were somebody we should respect.
Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, was respected by some as a saintly man. But nobody could call Benedict XVI saintly and keep a straight face. Whatever this leering old fixer may be, he is not saintly. Is he intellectual? Scholarly? That is oftenclaimed, although it is far from clear what there is in theology to be scholarly about. Surely nothing to respect.
The unfortunate little fact that Ratzinger was in the Hitler Youth has been the subject of a widely observed moratorium. I've respected it myself, hitherto. But after the pope's outrageous speech in Edinburgh, blaming atheism for Adolf Hitler, one can't help feeling the gloves are off.Did you hear what he said?
"Even in our own lifetime, we can recall how Britain and her leaders stood against a Nazi tyranny that wished to eradicate God from society and denied our common humanity to many, especially the Jews … As we reflect on the sobering lessons of the atheist extremism of the 20th century …
You have to wonder about the PR skills of the advisers who let that paragraphthrough. Oh but of course, I was forgetting, his senior advisor is that cardinal who takes one look at the immigration officials at Heathrow and concludes that he must have landed in the third world. The poor man was no doubt prescribed a bushel of Hail Marys, on top of his swift attack of diplomatic gout – and one can't help wondering whether the afflicted foot was the one he puts in his mouth.
Atfirst I was annoyed by the pope's disgraceful attack on atheists and secularists, but then I saw it as reassuring. It suggests that we have rattled them so much that they have to resort to insulting us, in a desperate attempt to divert attention from the child abuse scandal.
It probably is too harsh to expect the 14-year-old Ratzinger to have seen through the Nazis. As a devout Catholic, he wouldhave had dinned into him, along with the Catechism, the obnoxious idea that all Jews are to be held responsible for killing Jesus – the "Christ-killer" libel – not repudiated until the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965). The German Roman Catholic psyche of the time was still shot through with the antisemitism of centuries.
Hitler was a Roman Catholic. Or at least he was as much a Roman Catholic asthe 5 million so-called Roman Catholics in this country today. For Hitler never renounced his baptismal Catholicism, which was doubtless the criterion for counting the 5 million alleged British Catholics today. You cannot have it both ways. Either you have 5 million British Catholics, in which case you have to have Hitler, too. Or Hitler was not a Catholic, in which case you have to give us an...