PARIS: French President Francois Hollande had his knuckles rapped for it but most of Europe felt free Tuesday to start cracking jokes about Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation, sometimes with a sharp anti-clerical edge.
The pedophilia scandal that has engulfed the Roman Catholic Church in recent years ensured many of the quips flooding the Twittersphere and some of the cartoons published online and in newspapers across the continent had a dark theme.
But there was also a fair bit of gentle, affectionate ribbing related to the 85-year-old pontiff’s age and German roots as well as plenty of satirical comment on the antiquated traditions and practices surrounding his shock decision to become the first pope to resign in 600 years.
A cartoon in The Times depicted two red-robed cardinals chatting in the Vatican and one of them observing: “1294 ... 1415 ... 2013 ... this is becoming a bit of a trend!”
France’s left-wing daily Liberation dedicated two whole pages to cartoons on the news of the day, one of them showing two cardinals blithely waving an ailing Benedict goodbye as he crawls down the steps of St. Peter’s.
“Don’t hesitate to give us a call,” one calls after the Holy Father.
Another image suggests there might soon be a Korean pope and depicts the rap star Psy in pontifical garb with the headline: “Habemus Gangnam” a play on the term Habemus Papam (We have a pope) that is pronounced when a new pontiff is selected at a Vatican conclave.
On Twitter, British comedian Ricky Gervais was among many to observe that the pope had resigned on the eve of Shrove Tuesday, the feast day that precedes pre-Easter restraint for many Christians. “Look, when I said you should give something up for Lent,” Gervais tweeted. “Heard a rumor that the pope was fired. Definitely untrue,” he said in a follow-up tweet, asking what “could you possibly do to get fired from the Catholic church?”
Others looked forward to the Vatican’s selection of a new leader, with author Christopher Brookmyre tweeting: “I really don’t envy the next pope’s task of dragging his church kicking and screaming into the Sixteenth Century.”
British tabloid The Sun predictably emphasized the German roots of a pope who began life as Joseph Ratzinger. “Ratz your lot,” read one headline while a picture of the outgoing leader was titled: “Dun Roman” and “Auf Wiedersehen, Pope.”
Hollande meanwhile came under fire for a sardonic quip he made at a press conference with Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan Monday.
Having initially observed somberly that the Catholic Church should be left in peace to organize Benedict’s succession, the Socialist leader added with a smirk: “We won’t be putting up a candidate!”
That was slammed as inappropriate by former French Interior Minister Claude Gueant.
“Everyone knows that Francois Hollande is not very well disposed to religion in general and to the Catholic Church in particular,” Gueant said.
“But to make a joke about such a dignified decision is not good at all. It is completely out of place.”
Gueant also took a swipe at Hollande’s minister for older people, Michele Delaunay, who tweeted under the hashtags #Age and #JobsforSeniors: “I have to admit that, rightly or wrongly, Benoit XVI failed to consult me before taking his decision.” She later deleted the message.