James Kirkup reports the extraordinary news that there will be no alcoholic beverages available in the Palace of Westminster on Friday afternoon. Apparently this unprecedented move ("I can’t remember anything preventing our elected representatives getting a drink when they wanted one" writes Kirkup) has something to do with the fact that His Heiliness is in town. He's planning to lecture a cross-section of British parliamentarians and other notables in Westminster Hall later that day about our collective moral failings. And to apologise once more about the sex abuse cover-up, no doubt.
But why? Kirkup asks
Now, I admit I’m no theologian, so I’m somewhat baffled by this. Does the Holy Father forbid drinking? Are Roman Catholics under orders to abstain from alcohol? These are genuine questions, and if anyone can offer answers, I’d be grateful.
The answer's no. Quite the opposite, in fact. Whatever its other failings the Roman Catholic Church has never been down on alcohol. Indeed, wine is a central feature of the religion's most important rite. It was a Benedictine, the legendary Dom Perignon, who is said to have invented champagne, while to this day the holy monks of Buckfast Abbey bear a heavy share of responsibility for Glasgow's social problems.
It's a puzzle. I'd have thought that MPs faced with the prospect of listening to Ratzo's sermon would be in need of a stiff drink. I suppose it's possible that the Commons authorities have confused Pope Benedict with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It's an easy mistake to make. But I suspect the decision is a purely practical one. They're obviously afraid someone will get roaring drunk and start heckling.