Pope Benedict XVI blesses the faithful as he leads his Urbi et Orbi at the Vatican

Benjamin-riley_new-e1359604418483The closest I ever got to Pope Benedict XVI was on a trip to Rome in 2009. My visit was an anticipated stop on a pretentious European holiday, and I figured the crypts beneath St Peter’s Basilica would be my best shot at an anonymous hookup on an otherwise chaste backpacking experience.

My first night in the city I ended up in a horrible gay bar, the only one I could find. Being the youngest person in the bar by about 20 years, the guy on the door waived the entry fee and assured me with a wink that I wouldn’t be going home alone.

I got chatting with a couple of Americans on a whirlwind tour of the continent whose matching polo shirts, whitened teeth and fake tans made them stand out in the crowd. A few drinks and an hour of innuendo later, I left with a business card and an invitation to join them on their private tour of the Vatican the next day.

My apprehension at spending a day with them was more than put to rest by our amazing tour guide — a young Roman with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the spectacular artworks filling the halls of the Vatican. However, an otherwise fantastic tour was somewhat diminished by the guide constantly having to chase after the younger American every time he saw an out-of-bounds bannister he wanted to photograph. These interruptions were heightened by his older companion taking me aside to ask discreetly whether he ought to tell the guide to talk less and stop spoiling the tour.

At one point we came to a balcony overlooking a beautiful garden where, the guide told us, the last Pope used to hobble about and wave to tourists. He seemed disdainful of the fact that Benedict did no such thing, but maybe it’s for the best. After all, the former Cardinal Ratzinger looks like a Sith Lord. I didn’t get to see the Pope, but I took solace in knowing he was nearby, probably trying not to notice all the gays in the Vatican.

With Benedict’s resignation and another papal election upcoming, I think it’s important to remember that as big and bad as the Catholic Church might seem, such a view implies undeserved respect. Ultimately, the Vatican is just a bunch of gays in silly dresses running about catacombs while horrible tourists take photos. I’ll miss the Pope, if only because he made the whole thing look even sillier.

Follow Ben Riley on Twitter: @bencriley



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