Catholic Culture Resources
Catholic Culture Resources

Did German bishops snub the Pope?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Oct 06, 2011

In the past two weeks a report has been making the rounds on Catholic blogs that a number of German bishops deliberately snubbed Pope Benedict XVI, refusing to shake his hand, during the Pontiff’s September visit to their country. I’m happy to say that the reports are inaccurate.

Pat Archbold has the story—and the original clip from a Polish television broadcast that gave rise to it-- here.

Yes, it’s true that only a few of the bishop in the receiving lane take the Pope’s outstretched hand. But the first prelate in the line who does not shake the Pope’s hand is Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, his hand-picked Secretary of State and his stalwart ally. Trust me: Cardinal Bertone would never deliberately insult the Pope.

So what’s happening in this clip?

The bishops are in a receiving line. Following protocol, the Pope is introducing them to German President Christian Wulff. The Pope, trailing slightly behind Wulff, has his right hand is extended—not toward the bishop in front of him, but toward the one in front of the German leader. It is a gesture of introduction, not an attempted handshake. Notice that when a bishop does seize the Pope’s hand, the Holy Father appears somewhat distracted; he is already introducing the next bishop in the line.

If you watch the video without preconceptions, you will see no tension, no hostility in the body language of those involved. Whether or not the bishops take his hand, Pope Benedict shows no reaction. He looks tired and distracted but definitely not surprised or offended.

This is a diplomatic ritual, in which the bishops are greeting Wulff, not the Pope. When you host a party, and you introduce one friend to another, you expect the two to shake hands, but you don’t expect them to shake your hand again as well. That’s roughly what’s happening here.

Sorry to puncture balloons, but there’s no real story here.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: koinonia - Oct. 06, 2011 10:19 PM ET USA

    I don't think it punctures any balloons either way. Nonetheless, the pope has his hands full. Bishops, priests and laity across the globe are living, acting and speaking in ways openly opposed to the expressed will of the Holy Father and of Holy Mother Church. Many Catholics think the pope is irrelevant. The problem with the video is that the "shun theory" is actually so believable when considering the open dissent that has been evident for years. Remember Lepanto- Pray the Rosary.