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What State is the Pope visiting - and who is its head?

The importance of the Pope's visit, or is it the unimportance, which if so would itself be significant is that it is a matter of State.
Anthony Barnett
Anthony Barnett
17 September 2010

Finally, I am waking up to the importance of the Pope's visit, or is it the unimportance, which if so would itself be significant. I leave aside the issues of Peter Thatchell's magnificent campaign. This is a State Visit. It's not a religious visit. It's a regime-to-regime encounter. Thus when the Queen and the Pope converse it's on Head of State terms, as one theocrat to another.

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These secular days, of course, such things are not easy to arrange but every problem is an opportunity.  The Vatican may have its problems with its priests keeping their vestments on after choir in congregations around the world, but here in the UK where our Head of State prefers horses to humans and stables are expected to be zones of erotic experiment the problem is slightly different. It is the national question not the sexual question that leads to unequal relationships.

The Queen is the Head of the Church of England. Whoops! That is a bad a mistake. One David Cameron would not have made having been trained at Oxford with Vernon Bogdanor as his tutor.

Bogdanor's authoritative study, The Monarchy and the Constitution (Oxford, 1995, p 215), corrects such nonsense:

"The sovereign is the supreme Governor of the Church of England, but not its Head, which is Christ."

I am glad to get this on the record, and hope no reader of OurKingdom will make that mistake again. Supreme Governor, yes, Head no. Do not try and muscle in on the Trinity even through ignorance.

So, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. Oh dear, whatever next, if the vicar of the Vatican comes straight to London it might make it look as if he is making a State visit to the State of England. Thgerefore the first landing point is shifted to Scotland, just to show that the Head of England, whoops, Supreme Governor of our Theocracy, has a writ that extends across Britain (where other peoples have their own Churches, but never mind about that). We can thus turn the whole thing into a celebration of Britishness. In this spirit, according to Stephen Bates' report in the Guardian, when the Pontiff arrived at the Queen's Palace in Edinburgh, the head of the Church of Scotland (There I go again, I mean the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland) was disposed of by being "ushered into the wrong room".

I mean, what is the head of protocol for if not to pull off tricks like that? Dispatching the spirit of Scottish separateness into the endless phantom zone of the side-rooms in Holyrood must be worth another medal.

But who is taken in by the pantomime however many enjoy it? It was the Scottish Saltire that was being waved in the Glasgow crowds, not the Union Jack.

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