Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!
Like millions of Catholics all over the world I am absolutely overjoyed by the beatification of the Blessed John Paul II. I remember thinking at the time of his death that here was a man who gave himself 100 per cent to his mission – a true example to all priests and bishops, and to all the baptised. Now that shining example of personal holiness has been raised to the altars as a Beatus.
However, not everyone shares my joy. The usual suspects have rounded themselves up to try and pour cold water on this celebration. One cloud on the horizon was certainly provided by the presence of Comrade (as he prefers to be called) Robert Mugabe, and this was enough to give some commentators the excuse they were looking for.
The Independent’s report contains this misleading statement:
Mr Mugabe is the subject of an EU-wide travel ban and the Vatican had to obtain special permission for him to be allowed to enter the pocket statelet. It will be at least the third time that Mr Mugabe has taken advantage of the Vatican’s and/or Italy’s diplomatic largesse since John Paul’s death.
The Lateran Treaty established a “diplomatic corridor” between the Vatican and the rest of the world. When Sir D’Arcy Osborne was holed up in the Vatican for the duration of the Second World War, the Italians were obliged to allow him and his staff to travel across Italian territory to Switzerland in a sealed train, so that he could take a holiday, despite the fact that he was an enemy alien. Likewise, personae non gratae in Italy have always had the right to pass through Italian territory in order to get to the Vatican – this includes members of the Savoy family, Italy’s former ruling house, who were banned from Italy by law, but who were perfectly entitled to fly into Rome and visit the Pope any time they wished (a privilege they never made use of.)
Incidentally, this convention applies to the United Nations as well. Hence Mugabe can fly into New York and Rome to get to the UN, and no one can do anything about it.
However, the Vatican could ban Mugabe, as could the UN. Quite so. But there is a problem here. The Vatican is a Church; on what grounds can it ban someone from coming to Mass? It is perfectly true it could place Mugabe under interdict for his many sins and misdemeanours, but if you start with Mugabe, where would you finish? Should Berlusconi also be banned? What about the much married Sarkozy? What about, let us say, the late Robin Cook? In these circumstances, given the difficulty in judging politicians, it does seem reasonable to accept all comers. They accepted Mussolini and Jörg Haider, after all. The latter did cause an outcry, but to have banned him would have made every prospective visit a nightmare of potential protest.
Another matter that most English readers may not realise is that Mugabe, a hate figure in the UK, is much admired in many parts of Africa. Indeed, in some countries he is treated as a hero. And he is not disliked in Italy: that he has victimised white farmers in the name of anti-colonialism does not play badly in Italy where what is perceived as British hypocrisy over Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia in 1935 is not altogther forgotten. However, Zimbabwe is not much of an issue for Italians, and this would explain why Fr Lombardi’s comments seem so lame.
Incidentally, La Repubblica, Italy’s top newspaper, seems to have no mention of Mugabe’s presence in its current online edition. Far more interesting, from their point of view, is the spectacle of a hardworking prime minister falling asleep at the beatification. Poor Silvio Berlusconi. He is 74, and those late nights spent on official duties must be taking their toll.