Justin Welby was hailed as the “Archbishop of Banterbury” in a Daily Mail headline last week after footage of him reducing the Pope to fits of laughter was released to the public.
Archbishop Welby was filmed leaning towards the Pope mischievously, while visiting him at the Vatican, and reportedly telling him the following joke: “What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? You can negotiate with a terrorist.” This apparently prompted the Pope to erupt with mirth.
But when Cindy Wooden of the Catholic News Service shared the joke on Twitter, Lambeth Palace said that the story was not true. Perhaps this prompt denial is more significant than what really caused the Pope to guffaw so heartily. The joke is old and seemingly innocuous, but Lambeth Palace was keen to deny it was ever told. Is this because they assume that liturgists are prone to oversensitivity?
The Benedictine liturgical writer Fr Anthony Ruff admits that he can’t stand the joke: “Oh yeah, it’s very derisive of us liturgy types… and I’m afraid we have it coming at times. I hate that joke! But it reminds me to lighten up, so it’s probably good for me to be made fun of.”
The joke is definitely a jab at those too preoccupied with the niceties of the liturgy, says Fr Leo Chamberlain, another Benedictine. “[I’m] not familiar with the joke but I understand it,” he tells me. “We used to refer to people very keen on liturgical niceties as Spikes.”
But Fr Chamberlain believes that the joke is dated and belongs to post- Vatican II liturgy squabbles. “The joke is largely out of date because its not today’s problem,” he says.
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