Dozens of readers this week have begged me for a refresher on papal etiquette. I live to serve.
When writing to the Pope you should address your letter to His Holiness Pope Francis, The Episcopal Palace, Vatican City. A postcode is unnecessary. The letter itself should begin with the words Your Holiness. (Dear Your Holiness is considered impertinent and the Pope is unlikely to reply.)
Should you have the good fortune to meet the Pope there are several things to remember. First when he enters a room you should applaud. This is done by clapping. If you are holding a drink it is not acceptable to slap your thigh with your free hand, and on no account should you whistle or shout attaboy.
Rather you should just put your drink down and clap. If there is nowhere to put your drink you must clap anyway even if you spill your drink over your person. Sometimes you have to take one for the Most Holy Father.
If the Pope approaches you must genuflect. Bow your head and bend the right knee until it touches the floor. If because of age, fat or arthritis you are unable to get up again you must remain genuflected throughout your conversation with His Holiness and only after he has moved elsewhere and turned his back should you call for assistance or topple on to one side.
Should His Holiness offer his hand you may kiss the ring. This is to be found on the third finger of his right hand and is marked with a cross. Do not try to wipe the ring with disinfectant.
Once properly genuflected and with the ring kissed you may engage in relaxed conversation with the Holy Father. But remember, it is called an audience which means that you do the listening. Do not, under any circumstances, question miracles, recite limericks about choir boys*, or crack "jokes" along the lines of "I'm a real father, you know".
If you are a man wear a dark suit. If a woman, a dark dress that covers shoulders, upper arms, and everything from throat to shin. For obvious reasons your shoes must not be open-toed.
The Catholic faith has nothing in common with Islam, nevertheless as a woman you must cover your hair and wear a veil because you remain the temptress Eve who leads innocent upstanding men into sin and the sort of thoughts that oooh oooh oooh wash my mind with soap and sandpaper.
Pause for shudder, and cold shower.
And there you have it. Papal etiquette in 400 words and there is no need to thank me because I know many of you were worried by last week's story from the Vatican. The Pope got stuck in a lift.
The Vatican fire service, that band of heroes, left off dousing a heretic who had been inadvertently set on fire during a role play, and went to work. (One wag among them apparently suggested leaving the job to god, and quoted numerous supportive verses of scripture about being held in the palm of His hand and not a sparrow falling, etc, but he was swiftly silenced by the commander.)
It was this same commander who called down the lift shaft to ask the Holy Father whether his men could be excused genuflecting while they were at work. The Pope's shouted reply of "Por la leche de la virgen, sacame, hijo de puta, sacame de aqui" was taken as assent. They got the Holy Father out after 25 minutes.
Now, many of you get into lifts daily and you are understandably alarmed to think you might find yourself trapped between floors with the Holy Father. What is the protocol? Is etiquette relaxed in an emergency? Do you have to remain genuflecting throughout the rescue? What if you are a woman in open-toed sandals?
The last is easily answered. You should crouch to conceal your toes. If wearing a veil you should then place it over your head and try to hide as much of yourself as possible beneath it. If you have no veil, improvise with a scarf. Remain crouched and silent until rescued.
As for the other questions, a source in the Vatican informs me that the Office of Etiquette is at work on an encyclical to answer all questions and put the minds of the faithful at ease. (The delay is only because of an argument over the Latin for lift.) The source added that the encyclical was part of the Pope's bid to modernise the church.
* It is believed there is a locked book of such limericks in the Vatican Library with the key being accessible only to cardinals.