I was somewhat disturbed with what I saw in youtube. It was a video of the Pope seemingly snubbed by the German bishops who refused to shake his hand. At first glance it appears distressing, somehow foreshadowing division within the church. Others interpreted it as a secret revolt of those bishops who were not at ease with Pope Benedict XVI’s politics and governance, among those factors mentioned were the Motu Propio Summorum Pontificium which eased the usage of the Tridentine Mass, the lifting of the excommunication of the four SSPX bishops, and the reopening of the dialogue with the SSPX which accordingly, merited the ire of liberal European bishops.
Another hearsay equally annoying was the issue of the Pope’s defenestration – that God had publicly removed the Pope’s authority on the occasion of the World Youth Day 2011 when a strong wind had blown Pope Benedict’s zucchetto off his head – the symbol of his authority. This among others was interpreted as stripping off of power which gained its climax with the video allegedly showing German bishops in utter disrespect of the Pope.
But is this really the case? I made my research into this issue and I found the opposite. Looking closely at the bishops who were lined up there, the first one who did not shake hand with the Pope was no less than Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone – the Vatican Secretary of State who was personally handpicked by the Pope. It would be most unlikely that Cardinal Bertone would intend to insult the Pope. He was his known loyalist. So what really happened? Pope Benedict was following protocol when he extended his hand to introduce his entourage (the same bishops who supposedly snubbed him) to the German President Christian Wulff although the Pope appeared to lag behind him. He wasn’t reaching for a handshake from members of his own entourage who travelled with him. Others though may have extended their courtesy and shook the Pope’s hand but it was never required. They were with the Pope all along their travel and could very well have ample of time to shake hands with him. Besides, bishops do not shake hands with the Pope; they kiss his ring as a gesture of respect. Moreover, the men who didn’t shake hands with the Pope are known friends and collaborators. For example, Cardinal Brandmueller, a good friend of the Pope, and Bishop Josef Clemens, the Pope’s former personal secretary and now Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. Among those who did shake hands although it was not necessary anymore were Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, President of the German Bishops’ Conference and Archbishop Rainer Woelki of Berlin, the only two German bishops who were included in the Pope’s entourage when he arrived in Berlin but did not travel with him on the plane.
So things are not always what they seem at first glance. According to Father Federico Lombardi, S.J – the Vatican spokesman who commented on this matter when it reached the net, “I have nothing else to add. An interpretation of the video that accuses the German bishops of disrespecting the Pope is too senseless to warrant further comment.”