Things are not always what they seem at first glance

Four people, count ’em, four, have sent me a link to a video with Polish titles and voice over from the Vatican TV feed of the Pope’s visit in Germany.  What you see is the Pope moving along a line of prelates and monsignori with his hand out, rather robotically, offering it to be shaken.  Several of the prelates do not shake the Pope’s hand.  The people who wrote to me either ask about or express their dismay that the Pope is being shown disrespect, is being snubbed.

Here are two of the comments I received in email:

I found this video of the Pope with the German bishops and it looks that several of them refused to shake his hand as a minimal level of courtesy and respect. The film seems to come from Poland. I haven’t seen it commented on anywhere else. I was shocked and greatly disturbed by it. Its a short film.


I really hope and pray that these bishops are not treating the Holy Father with so much disrespect. I hope that the video isn’t what it seems and that I’m overlooking some sort of protocol or aspect of foreign culture. I wonder if you have any thoughts about this, especially as it relates to what the Holy Father is trying to do with respect to the New Evangelization and Reform of the Reform.

The video is HERE.  I will attempt to embed.


Friends, don’t read too much into this video.  The Pope is NOT being snubbed.  He may be introducing people to the German President.  Some shake the Pope’s hand, others don’t.  It isn’t a snub.

The men who don’t shake the Pope’s hand are close collaborators and his friends.  For example, you see Card. Brandmüller, a good friend of the Pope.  There is Bp. Josef Clemens, the Pope’s former personal secretary and now Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Laity.  There is Msgr. Guido Marini and the rest of the papal MCs.  On the other hand, Card. Kasper did move to shake the Pope’s robotically outstretched hand.  So does the Archbp. Woelki of Berlin, who doesn’t see the Pope all the time and who hasn’t been a close collaborator.

Poor Pope Benedict.  Imagine how much of this he must endure.  His collaborators spare his sore hand.  Also, many people think that a handshake is NOT the best way to honor the Vicar of Christ.

So, do not read anything into this video.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Ezra says:

    It seems pretty clear to me that the Pope is introducing the various prelates to the President, pointing forward to them. He’s not reaching for a handshake, even if a couple of the prelates seem to have thought he was! [You could be right. That is what it looks like. In any event, no one was snubbing the Pope.]

  2. Joan M says:

    I totally agree with Ezra. It looks like those prelates who shook his hand were taking advantage of his being so near to them. I might want to do that too!!

  3. Mitchell NY says:

    It kind of looks like the Holy Father’s hand is outstretched, as if leading the way. Which would be entirely appropriate for the Holy Father. He doesn’t look snubbed to me.

  4. JonoShea1 says:

    If you watch the fuller scene on the Vatican website, you will see that the German president introduced the pope to various German civil and military dignitaries with the same robotic arm motion. None made the attempt to shake the hand of the president, as they were aware that he was introducing the pope to them. Moving to the other side, Pope Benedict did the same for the president, introducing him to the prelates, utilizing the same gesture. Some prelates simply took the opportunity to shake Pope Benedict’s hand as well.

    Given that this was an occasion of state, the handshake seems very appropriate.

    For context, please see the video here, and go to about the 5:00 minute mark.

  5. anna 6 says:

    …and most of the prelates who did not shake his hand came with him on the plane…while most of the ones who did are Germans.

    In any case, it’s kind of sweet that we’re all so protective of our dear Holy Father.

  6. TNCath says:

    No, I don’t think the Pope was being snubbed, either. However, I must say that I’ve recently noticed that the Holy Father looks a bit thinner and appears to be very, very tired. We must must continue to pray for him!!!

  7. Long-Skirts says:

    In any event, no one was snubbing the Pope.]
    Are you KIDDING???!!! Oh, my gosh, I have never EVER seen such a snub!!! OMG…smell the coffee!!!!!

  8. Panterina says:

    I was fortunate enough to be in my town’s cathedral when the late Pope John Paul II came for a visit. Some aide came down the aisle ahead of the Pope and asked us not to shake his hand: He meets hundreds if not thousands of people on these visits, and if everyone were to shake his hand, it would soon cause him a lot of pain. It could be that some of the prelates refrained from shaking Pope Benedict’s hand for the same reason.

  9. Geoffrey says:

    This is not a snub at all. The Holy Father is not extending his hand in greeting but rather presenting his official entourage to the German officials. I’ve seen this done many times before. Either before or after this, they do the same thing for the German dignitaries: the Holy Father will greet them while the German president or chancellor extends their hand in presentation. The ‘faux pas’ here is actually committed by those who are taking the Holy Father’s hand!

  10. puma19 says:

    Geoffrey is right. I have worked in protocol areas for many years dealing with presidents
    and prime ministers. The Pope is introducing members of his official papal entourage and therefore those members are being introducd to the President of the German Republic. This happens when President Obama, Queen Elizabeth II and all world Heads of State do the same at arrivals, receptions etc. It is bad taste and total ignorance for some media and others to try to read the totally wrong message into what is THE NORMAL PROTOCOLS for heads of state. Let’s move on.

  11. Gail F says:

    Thanks for this clarification. I saw the same thing on another blog I enjoy, but which sometimes leaps to sensational conclusions. (Commenters there said the same things you did.) It’s good to see so many sensible people.

  12. MarWes says:

    I am a native Polish speaker. The spoken commentary, apparently by a Polish TV journalists, clearly states that the Pope introduces the German president to the group of prelates just like the president has done earlier, introducing the Pope to his staff. No hint of any snubbing. The opening caption, though, reads “The embarrassing greeting of the Pope by German cardinals and bishops in Berlin” and that’s where the spin makes its appearance. The clip comes from which seems to be a very pro-papal organization; at their website, the following sentence is added to the description of the video: “This is already an open schism and apostasy”.

  13. 4unborn says:

    The ones who shake his hand, look at the Pope. The ones who do not, turn away and do not even look at him. It is a snub. [You are wrong.]

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