Why is the Papacy so fascinating? First of all, it is an old institution, somewhere in the neighborhood of two thousand years. When you consider that a generation is usually measured as twenty years, that’s one hundred generations that have passed since the inception of the Papacy. Tag on to that, all the rituals and rites, the icons and the vestments, and you’ve got a treasure trove of stories that range from the ludicrous to the sublime. One book I’d like to recommend is the Abacus and the Crucifix by Nancy Brown. It talks about a man named Gerbert of Aurillac. He became pope in the year 999 CE. (By the way I am replacing A.D which stands for “Anno Domini,” or “The year of our Lord” with C.E. which stands for “Current Era.”) Gerbert of Aurillac was a man of math and science, recognized during his day as the greatest thinker in the Western World. That would be like making someone like Carl Sagan Pope in this day and age. It would never happen. Church and science are settled into diametrically opposing sides in modern culture. When Baylor College did a study where they prayed over some petri dishes and not others, they were ridiculed from nearly all quarters; however, others tried to duplicate the results of the Baylor study (which concluded that prayer helped the little critters to thrive better than the petri dishes that weren’t prayed over) but so far, nobody else thinks that prayer makes a difference. Note that Baylor College is a religious school.
I think of the Jesuit fathers who educated me in the early 1980’s. In a way I feel as though they saved my life. I quit drinking alcohol at their insistence and it was a good decision. I lived by it for over 20 years. But when I think of the Church’s stance on birth control, it is completely illogical. The only form of birth control that they say is copacetic is the rhythm method. But if the rhythm method is okay, why not other forms? The intent behind the rhythm method is to circumvent “God’s Will.” The argument against contraception is that it seeks to circumvent God’s divine intent. Whacky. The Fathers of the Society of Jesus were so intellectual and erudite. I looked up to them. But if you cornered them on a point like this, their voices would run dry. You knew they wanted to say what was logical, but instead they would go into doublethink. The pain on their faces when they spouted anti-gay, or anti-contraception made them look like they were passing fire ants through their urethras.
Pope Benedict XVI likes to stir the pot whenever he can. Remember is remarks right before he went to visit Turkey? Quoting the Byzantine Emperor Manuel, he called Islam a religion that had nothing to offer the civilized world and that it was just a ideology for violence. Oh, the crowds that greeted Benedict XVI when he landed on the shore of the Turks! They waved and shouted, mostly demanding his head on a platter. Now here he is talking about condoms and male prostitutes. Moving to be a more moral creature, male prostitutes (sinful though they may be) are moving on the right path if they used condoms. It’s not like two men can conceive a baby anyway, right? The flurry of clarifications that came pouring out of the Vatican Curia. “No, the Pope didn’t say it was okay to use condoms!” But listen carefully to his words. He does condone their use in a very narrow instance. Anyone who is familiar with Church history will understand that that narrow instance is a thin part of a wedge. If not this year or the next, the Catholic Church may not open its eyes and make more realistic statements on birth control; however, at some point they will. Just as the celibacy of the clergy is doomed. Nuns will be able to marry, as will priests. I can’t help but wonder who the next pope will be. Will he be from Latin America or Africa? We can only hope and pray. Not only the Italians, but it seems all of the Europeans are blind to the real world. No American can ever be Pope. That just won’t happen until America is a tiny, unimportant country on the world map.