Pope Emeritus? A black pope?

Strange times at the Vatican.  I was at the gym this morning; on the TVs, all three morning news shows were reporting live from Saint Peter’s Square.  I listened to Arcade Fire instead, because it was highly unlikely any of them would have anything interesting to say.  You need to go elsewhere for that.

One of the top candidates to replace Benedict is a black cardinal from Ghana, Peter Turkson.  I find this particularly fascinating, since my novel Pontiff features a black pope.  So it was my idea first!  My guy is not this guy, though.  He strikes me as the Church’s equivalent of Marco Rubio (not Obama) — he may have appeal to people the Church wants to appeal to, but any changes he brings will be in style, not in substance.  This is from the New Yorker:

He will not lessen opposition to gay marriage or undo the directive stating that men with “deeply rooted homosexual tendencies” should not be ordained as priests. On the contrary, Turkson has defended anti-gay legislation in Africa and argued that “alternative lifestyles” should not be considered human rights…. Similarly, there is no reason to expect shifts on abortion, birth control, or the ordination of women should Turkson become Pope. He does not deviate from the party line even on topics where a variety of positions are theologically permissible, such as the end of clerical celibacy.

A good place to go for some perspective on the current goings-on at the Vatican is Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish.  An odd bundle of contradictions, Sullivan is a gay conservative Irish-Catholic Obama-lover, and no admirer of the Catholic hierarchy. Here he vents about Cardinal O’Brien of Scotland’s resignation on the eve of the conclave after accusations of sexual impropriety, while the abominable child-abuse-enabling Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles will attend:

Britain will have no representative at the Conclave because the Cardinals are either too old or too sexually compromised. But Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles, found unequivocally guilty of hiding and enabling the rape of children, will show up in his red robes. Why exactly is he allowed to go while O’Brien has resigned? Will he grab a sherry with Cardinal Law, another enabler of child-rape actually rewarded by the Vatican with a sinecure in Rome?

And here’s a question: if every Cardinal who had a cover-up of child-rape and abuse under his authority or had had sex with another man were barred from the Conclave, how many would be left?

And then there’s the ex-pope’s living arrangement — he’ll be right there in the Vatican, with his handsome secretary doing double duty as the head of the new pope’s household. Sullivan says:

So Benedict’s handsome male companion will continue to live with him, while working for the other Pope during the day. Are we supposed to think that’s, well, a normal arrangement? . . . This man – clearly in some kind of love with Ratzinger (and vice-versa) will now be working for the new Pope as secretary in the day and spending the nights with the Pope Emeritus. This is not the Vatican. It’s Melrose Place.

Ya can’t make this stuff up.  I know; I tried.

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The other Pennsylvania sex abuse trial

I have lived in my bucolic Boston suburb for twenty years.  Not much happens.  The police report in the weekly newspaper features OUIs and shoplifting charges.  People worry about zoning changes and the naming of schools. Everyone gets along.

It turns out that the two worst people who have lived in my town in recent memory were priests at the Catholic church just down the street from me.

One of them, who doesn’t merit a Wikipedia article, was the pastor of the church; he is currently serving a life sentence in prison for sexual abuse of minors.

The other priest, the infamous John Geoghan, was strangled and stomped to death in prison.

In both cases, there is strong evidence that the Archdiocese of Boston knew what was going on and hid the information from the police and potential victims.  But no one in a position of power in the archdiocese was ever charged with a crime.  Cardinal Bernard Law was pulled back to safety in Rome, where he remains influential.  Reports suggest he was behind the recent crackdown on American nuns who were too interested in stuff like, you know, social justice and helping the poor.

But now we have this:

In the first conviction of a high-level Roman Catholic official in the nationwide priest sexual abuse scandal, a monsignor in the Philadelphia Archdiocese was found guilty Friday of child endangerment for covering up allegations of abuse of children.

Msgr. William J. Lynn, who supervised priests for the archdiocese, was accused of reassigning pedophile priests in an attempt to protect the church’s reputation and avoid lawsuits. A jury acquitted him, however, of conspiracy and another endangerment charge.

The Sandusky trial and conviction had a higher profile, but he’s just a guy, and Penn State is just a place.  Lynn is a representative of one of the most powerful institutions in the world. His conviction matters.

After the Church sex abuse scandal exploded in the early 2000s, we took the kids to New York City and popped into Saint Patrick’s Cathedral to take a look.  Turns out Mass was being celebrated, and the priest was giving a homily about the scandal.  And of course he blamed the media.  WTF?  Hollywood has been glamorizing pedophilia?  But he’s not alone.  Here is Pope Benedict’s insightful analysis of the problem:

But in his festive speech – which he traditionally uses to impart key messages to senior Vatican figures – he insisted the abuse scandal should be placed in a wider social context. “We cannot remain silent about the context of these times in which these events have come to light,” he said, citing child pornography, “that seems in some way to be considered more and more normal by society.”

Sexual tourism in the third world was “threatening an entire generation”, he added.

Returning to a theme he had discussed in the past, Benedict said the modern world’s moral relativism was at fault. “In the 1970s, paedophilia was seen as a natural thing for men and children,” he said, arguing that the Catholic church had the task of taking on and defeating relativism.

In what universe is child pornography considered “more and more normal by society”?

I enjoy disputations about theology and science, but let’s face it: religion isn’t going away anytime soon.  But can’t we hope for a religion that is better than this?  The depressing thing is that Bernard Law once represented that kind of religion:

Law was a civil rights activist. He was a member of the Mississippi Leadership Conference and Mississippi Human Relations Council. For his civil rights activities and his strong positions on civil rights in the Mississippi Register, of which he was editor, he received death threats. The newspaper lost many subscribers for whom his civil rights stance was repugnant.

Charles Evers, activist and brother of Medger Evers (activist assassinated in 1963), praised Law and said he acted “not for the Negro, but for justice and what is right.”

If we had more priests like that, it would be harder to make the case for atheism.

Life is stupider than fiction: The Pope’s butler did it; Fox news reporter hired to help Vatican improve its image

I have alluded to this Vatican scandal before: The pope’s personal butler has been arrested for passing secret documents to some journalist.  The head of the Vatican bank has been fired:

The Holy See’s travails became clearly evident on May 17, with the publication of a book, Your Holiness: The Secret Papers of Benedict XVI, in which the Italian journalist Gianluigi Nuzzi reproduced dozens of leaked letters, memos and cables, many of them from within the office of the Pope. Then came the ouster of the head of the Vatican Bank, Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, who on Thursday received a vote of no confidence from the bank’s overseers, in part because he was suspected of passing on confidential documents. Finally, there was the arrest the next day of one of the men closest to the pontiff, his personal butler, Paolo Gabriele, who was caught with sensitive papers in his possession.

And this all presumably has to do with a power struggle within the Vatican:

Many Vatican watchers have speculated that the drama is the fall out of a struggle for power between Pope Benedict XVI’s second-in-command, Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, and rival cardinals and the Vatican’s veteran diplomatic staff, which has resented him since his arrival. “Bertone is effectively under fire,” says Magister. “If the government of the church is in such disastrous condition, then it’s clear that the head of the state needs to answer for these.”

So yesterday the pope came up with a strong response to the scandal: he hired someone from Fox News to be the Vatican’s media adviser.  Smart move!  The Vatican will become fair and balanced!  It reports, you decide!  Here are the other kinds of things this guy will deal with:

Benedict’s now-infamous speech about Muslims and violence, his 2009 decision to rehabilitate a schismatic bishop who denied the Holocaust, and the Vatican’s response to the 2010 explosion of the sex abuse scandal are just a few of the blunders that have tarnished Benedict’s papacy.

Of course, there is no indication that the Vatican will actually change its beliefs or practices as a result of this move.  The Vatican will do what it does; Benedict will believe what he believes; things will presumably just be messaged more smoothly.

Here, by the way, is an exhaustive Wikipedia article about Benedict’s speech that caused such problems with Muslims.  Good job promoting religious dialogue, Benedict!

Anyway, let me just remind folks that Pontiff numbers among its many characters the Vatican secretary of state, the head of the Vatican bank, and the pope’s butler (really, his personal aide).  Plus scenes of Fenway Park!  And it’s currently available for the astonishingly low price of $0.99!