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Cardinal Walter Kasper's 'Third World' comment

Cardinal Walter Kasper apparently compared Britain to a Third World country during the pope's visit to the United Kingdom, and everyone is expecting him to apologize.

I don't think he needs to. Who hasn't called Britain a Third World country after arriving at Heathrow Airport and seeing that -- as the cardinal's personal secretary said -- "it is like landing in Islamabad, Mumbai and Kinshasa all at the same time, because there are so many cultures and religions and races from all over the world"? Doesn't that happen to everyone? Whenever I sit on D.C. buses, I always think I'm in Renaissance Italy, the Chicago World's Fair and Levittown all at the same time, because of all the richness of cultural diversity that causes strangers to approach me, tell their life stories and try to take my wallet, but maybe that's just me. I do know when I get out at Reagan National Airport, I often become confused and think that I'm in Dallas/Fort Worth, Raleigh, and Denver all at the same time, but that's because I think all airports look very similar.

Still, I have to give the cardinal's personal secretary, Monsignor Oliver Lahl, credit for the save. What if that guy had been around earlier?

"When he said that the meek would inherit the earth," he would explain, "he meant that the earth might, at the end of its life, include some of the meek in its will."

"When he said to give to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, he meant that you specifically shouldn't go into Caesar's house and try to steal his belongings."

"When he said he was the son of God, he was just saying that he respects his biological father intensely."

Based on the rate at which the Catholic church usually apologizes for things -- it took them 359 years to apologize to Galileo -- it's hard to see why people are waiting expectantly for an apology from the cardinal. I'd settle for an apology for something else that happened hundreds of years ago, like the Borgias. That was terrible!

More interesting than the comment itself or the ensuing kerfuffle are the strange tidbits that keep emerging at the fringes of the story, off-hand sentences such as, "the cardinal was suffering from gout in his legs and feet and had difficulty walking and standing." What?

Who has gout? Gout is the "disease of kings"! No wonder he thinks Britain is a Third World country if he's wandering around afflicted with the same disease that plagued Henry VIII and John Hancock!

But it turns out that, in fact, more people have gout than ever. According to, more than 6 million people in the U.S. have it! And the numbers are also on the rise in Britain.

Does this bother anyone else?

Aside from how poorly this reflects on modern diets and our population's general health, this is a serious downgrade for a condition that used to be reserved for royalty. Now kings will have to find some other rarefied luxury condition to have, such as inbreeding or the flu you get from having too many rugs made of white tigers.

"He is in bed, so he can't check the Internet to look at the coverage, but he has been informed," the cardinal's secretary added.

I've never been able to use that excuse, but that's because I have had my Blackberry surgically welded to my hip. This makes it hard to get through security at airports, but that's a small price for being so connected. Not check the internet in bed? No wonder the church believed the earth was flat for so many centuries!

Maybe this whole shebang is just the cardinal's elaborate way of asking the public to give him an iPhone.

By Alexandra Petri  | September 16, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Tags:  Petri  
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