Cameron and Palace should show the Pope more respect
The press, too, has been ungenerous, highlighting his Falklands remarks. What else could he have said?
DAVID CAMERON'S joke at Pope Francis I's expense was rather good - "the white smoke over the Falklands was clear". Just the sort of thing that the Notting Hill set would find amusing, especially as Pope Francis is an avowed opponent of their current obsession, gay marriage.
As the faithful, and many others, celebrated across the world the election of a new Pope who took the name of the gentlest of the saints – Francis of Assisi - David Cameron showed off his clever-clever one-liners.
Last month, while visiting the Sikh holy city of Amritsar in the Punjab, Cameron adopted a more solemn tone, donning a headscarf and regretting the 1919 massacre there by Gurkha and Baluchi troops under British command. Very respectful. No jokes. Every word and photo opportunity carefully designed in homage to 'diversity' and post-imperial guilt.
But it seems Cameron has no such respect for Roman Catholicism as was made pretty clear by the representatives he sent to the Pope's inauguration - Ken Clarke and Baroness Warsi.
Buckingham Palace seems to have taken the same attitude, despatching as the Queen's representative her cousin, the Duke of Gloucester, currently 21st in line to the throne.
The reaction of much of the British press to the new Pope has also been ungenerous - highlighting his sermon at a memorial service last year for the dead of the Falklands War in which he praised the fallen for their bravery in fighting against the British "usurper".
Few who sailed South with the task force in 1982 would take offence. He was speaking more in pity and mourning than in national bombast. In any case, nearly every Argentinian regards the British as usurpers. And at the end of the war most British soldiers were moved to pity by the state of their opponents. Bedraggled, frightened, confused, they were left for weeks on wintry mountains while - except in some elite formations - their officers often retired at night to the warmth and comfort of Port Stanley.
Most tried to do their duty to their country as they saw it. Many were from the slums of Buenos Aires, like the Pope himself. As Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, what was he expected to say?
More than 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, including 5.5 million Britons, accept Pope Francis's spiritual authority as 263rd successor to St Peter. It's a worldwide church – the largest and most diverse human organisation of all, ever. So much so that in March 2006 Pope Benedict ceased to style himself ‘Patriarch of the West' because the title did not properly reflect the global nature of Roman Catholicism.
To show just how behind the programme the Palace and Cameron are, the papal inauguration was attended by Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, head of the Orthodox Church, who has not been represented at the ceremony since refusing to accept papal authority in 1054. The Patriarch of Constantinople still doesn't. Nor, of course, does the Church of England, of which the Queen is Supreme Governor.
But Bartholomew respects the papacy and knows that without a thriving Roman Catholic Church, Christianity itself will suffer. He felt he should be there and attended in person. It's a shame that neither our royal family nor our government had the good manners to do the same. ·