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After the vatication… secret mens’ business


The doors of the Sistine Chapel have swung shut and huge lines tourists queuing have disappeared along with the whole micro economy of spruikers and grafters who work the lines offering special tours to get you in without waiting .  The cafes and street stalls of the Piazza Navona will be that extra bit busy and the queues around the Colosseum will be a tad longer as the city adjusts to the lock out.    The queues have been replaced, undoubtedly, by the journalists, photographers, OB vans and TV crews.  The Vatican plumbers have reinstalled the special flue through the ceiling and all will be waiting for the puff of white smoke.  The mother church likes nothing better than some visual theatrics.

The recent resignation of  Pope Benedict XVI  was unprecedented –  there’s 600 years of unprecedentedness,  in fact.  It was of course the admirable and sensible thing to do and before he was made pope, Cardinal Ratzinger had talked about it as an option for the preceding pope JPII.  Sensible yes but retiring rather than dutifully dying in office lacks the drama and pathos and any sense of the rapturous enormity that the office is supposed to hold.  For once in my life I’m inclined to agree with Cardinal George Pell in that it does weaken the position of Pope.   My reasoning, however, is because it shows up the notion of papal infallibility.  The idea that god has chosen one male and personally bestowed on him the miraculous powers to make executive decisions on her (God’s) behalf doesn’t quite fit with the image of the frail old man who was choppered out of the Vatican a few weeks ago – the idea of the helicopter was undoubtedly to give some visual drama and the impression of the old Pope’s ascension to a better place but it could be considered more like a medevac.  Papal infallibility doesn’t fit logically either.  It seems too convenient for one particular institution to be gifted this miraculous being and when one resigns do they become suddenly fallible again.  Of course I am glossing over many subtle obfuscations that give apologists  a lot of wriggle room.  For example, technically it’s not just the Pope himself but all the cardinals who have collective infallibility.  If this is so, why is George Pell urging people to pray that the conclave make the right choice?  More drama of course and a mystical sense of community interaction in there for good measure.

But who are the cardinals anyway…?  Priests and bishops who have been chosen by a pope.  There’s some circularity here.   The college of cardinals is a closed and secret society of made men.  They are supported by an entrenched and equally secretive and publicly unaccountable bureaucracy that has access to huge and largely unquantified and untaxed financial resources and there is more than a hint of scandal and corruption.  It’s a bureaucracy that has shown itself to protect those who sexually prey on children and the vulnerable in their care.

But the church also has very many well meaning, kind and morally responsible people.  It’s played a big part in the civilisation of western civilisation; particularly during the middle ages, by bestowing some sort of moral order on the warlords and despotic rulers. But it’s also proved itself to be despotic and rancorous at times when it feels its power is being threatened (think counter-reformation) and it has always believed that it is above and beyond civil law and secular standards of conduct.  It is hierarchical and patriarchal.

The selection of a new pope has always been a process of political manoeuvring and deal-making. It’s a fight for executive control over a wealthy corporation, a fight for power but this gets blurred with some sublime impression of divine order and decree. This is all the more disconcerting because of the systemic problems and possible corruption.

The role of pope has changed over the years. In times gone, they were absolute rulers with the power (like most heads of state at the time) to order torture, disfigurement and summary execution.   One Julian II even went to war in full armour and leading a papal army to regain territory that had been nibbled away by surrounding city states.

The old style warrior pope (presumably Julian II) ready for battle. Disclaimer: it looks like a shot from a movie but sadly I cannot source or attribute it.

The papal role today is perhaps less confrontational and more symbolic.  Since the advent of the mass media the church has played on their celebrity status and they are paraded about like rock stars in the pope mobile to wave benignly to their  swooning fans. The word charisma would feature high in the job’s key selection criteria.  They will be looking for someone like the Dalai Lama but there is so much to fix both within the church and outside including impending global crises (warming) that they need to be able to act.  It’s arguable how much power a modern pope actually  has in the face of the entrenched bureaucracy but even symbolic power is power in the arena public affairs. We need someone who can see the problems clearly and rationally and not wallow in fatalistic mysticism but sadly the cardinals are a product of the system which systematically represses and excludes dissent and dissenters.   Let’s hope (or pray if you like) that we get the best one.

Vatication…?  yes it’s a word according to the Urban Dictionary.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 22/09/2013 1:08 pm

    The image should be of Warhammer cosplay. Google “Warhammer Warrior Priests”.

  2. R P Stott permalink
    22/09/2013 1:53 pm

    thanks… very similar

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