How Charles wrote himself out of the papal visit’s script

Did prince sulkily refuse to meet Benedict because he wasn’t put on a par with mother? And if so, wh

Prince Charles has caused anger in London and Rome after declining an invitation from the Pope to attend an interfaith event, allegedly after being denied a one-to-one audience on a par with the Queen's, sources reveal.

Previously, the Guardian has touched on news that the Pope will not meet Charles, and the Mail on Sunday's take will be that it is a "snub" on behalf of the Pope. What is clear is that -- as things stand -- the Prince of Wales will now play no part in the papal visit in September. The question, though, is why.

It is because -- to the dismay of some close to plans and arrangements for the visit -- he actually turned down an invitation from the Vatican to attend an interfaith event at St Mary's University teacher training college in Twickenham on 17 September, despite the prince's proclaimed interest in interfaith issues.

The refusal to attend came after Clarence House had apparently sought a private meeting with the Pope of the sort his mother, the Queen, will enjoy when she and the pontiff lunch together at Holyrood House in Edinburgh at the start of his trip. Sources say that there was no room for Benedict XVI to hold another one-to-one meeting with a member of the royal family, and that Clarence House has formally declined the Pope's invitation to the interfaith event.

When I called Clarence House, a spokeswoman said that the prince's agenda is made public only two weeks in advance. Intriguingly, Charles's office referred the matter to Buckingham Palace.

The extraordinary behaviour by the heir to the throne will cause speculation that he is more concerned about being seen on the same level as the Queen than with meeting the Pope. Relations between Clarence House and Buckingham Palace are notoriously poor.

If it is true, as one source put it, that Charles "threw his toys out the pram" over the papal visit, then this should be seen in the context of the bizarre self-obsession that appears to govern Clarence House. Charles has proved time and again that he has a pitiful notion of his role, with his willingness to swing in and out of politics like a hammer in a teashop.

Many observers will conclude that if he wants to be king, it is high time he put his duties before himself.

James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.