Essays & Images on Cities, Travel and Contemporary Culture. A web journal of James A. Clapp, Ph.D., an UrbisMedia Ltd. Production


Is this Pope trying to blow white smoke up our butts?



It was habemus papam time again in Vatican City, and this time the Crimson Codgers went for what they must consider to be the right strategic choice. The last two times, with their anti-Communist crusader with the Beatles name, and the little ex-Nazi protector of Holy Mother Church’s nastiest and dirtiest secrets, didn’t work out that well. Both basically, endeavored to keep the Church’s doors firmly barricaded against anything more modern than the late 16th century. Nevertheless, there are still nominally over a billion Roman Catholics scattered around the world, but the brand, as hip new speak would define it, has been in freefall in the wake of the exposure of priestly pederasty. There is no chance, as holy mother Church has done probably since the introduction of priestly celibacy, of covering those tracks dogmatically or strategically in the Internet age.

The Cardinals must have been thinking a little more clearly this time that sitting around praying isn’t going to keep the Muslims from out-breeding them, the prods beating their time in China, or Europe and North America sliding into negative birthrates and finding something better to do on Sunday mornings than attend the magic show, listen to the tired homilies, and putting some tinkle in the collection basket. That leaves South America and Africa, those erstwhile colonial stomping grounds where the Church functioned as the vanguard for their allies, the monarchies and subsequently the colonial trading companies. Vatican Inc. was right in there with the other corporate bloodsuckers. But in Africa Muslims already had a strong foothold, the Protestants are a competitive presence there to, and there is that residual Animism. Somebody in that College of Codgers must have been thinking: “White ain’t right, Black’s too black, let’s go Brown.’ Not that this new guy really fits the “Brown” category; but you know what I mean.

So this guy is from the provinces, he is the General Maximus from Iberia, a man of the people and from the people, to stand against the record of the arrogant privilege of Commodus, of the Roman insider “good old boy” rise to the tiara and red booties.

Okay, so the new Pope prefers modest residential accommodations to luxurious papal digs; so do I. Okay, so the new Pope prefers public transportation to being driven around in a private car; so do I. Okay, so the new Pope prefers simpler clothing to wearing that elaborate silly suit; so would I. Okay, so the new pope is a guy who thinks that something should be done for poor people; well so do I. Okay, so the Pope was willing to go to a detention center in Washington to wash bunch of inmates feet and kiss them; forgot about it, he can wash my feet. I was on a roll there for a while, but I guess that last one will keep me from ever being white-smoked as Urbanisticus I.

But there are some concerns here. First of all, this guy is a Jesuit, and that gives me cause to wonder if all of this “I’m just a humble regular guy that likes long walks on the beach, a quiet candlelit dinner, and a little popcorn while I’m watching Evita for the 784th time . . .” has more than a whiff of slick PR campaign. Then, to cap off the Mr. Humble Guy image he takes the name Francis –– in honor of, not Francis Xavier, but one of the founding pillars of the Society of Jesus, but of Francis of Assisi, the mendicant founder of the Franciscans who was often portrayed fondling a bunny, or sniffing a wildflower. In religious order terms that is the equivalent of LeBron James jumping from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. Traitor!*

Obviously, there is that part of the Church that hankers for the days of John XXIII, and maybe sees Francis as his reincarnation in the same way that Democrats had great hopes that Barack Obama would be another FDR. But both men have inherited corrupted institutions that are protective of privilege and resistant to change. Both the Church and American “democracy” have (d)evolved to sustain the perks and privileges of their elites and, over time, have vastly consolidated their power, both economically and politically in America, and both economically and dogmatically in the Roman Catholic Church.

My first consciousness of the papacy came around age four or five, before I first went to Catholic school. My grandfather Sebastian had constructed his own private toilet in the basement of his house. He spent a good deal of his time puttering with a variety of projects in the basement, where I liked to hang out with him. On the wall of his toilet room he had stuck up a a fairly large picture of them raining Pope Pius XII, an ascetic and stern looking figure who my grandfather in some ways resembled. But the pope was surrounded by a set of pictures that must have been responsible for what were called for a long time “dirty French postcards.” In fact, they were postcards of bosomy, rather Rubin-esque pinup girls of the time in corsets and bustiers and Gibson hairdos–hot stuff for his time. When I asked, he told me that the guy in the silly suit was the “Papa,” but I have no idea why he was on the wall of honor since my grandfather never want to church and always seemed disdainful of anything religious and seem to have a far greater interest in the pinup girls. I do my best to follow his fine example.

So why should I be suspicious, if not downright disrespectful, of this new Pope before he has had opportunity to do much more than wash the feet of some miscreants in a show of ritual humility? Maybe I don’t particularly like authority figures. Not maybe; I really don’t like authority figures. Well, at least authority figures who come by their authority in the manner of aristocrats, dictators and religious leaders. He calls himself a “pope of the poor, pope of the people,” but the poor people didn’t vote for him to be Pope, but they will have to put up with his decrees about birth control, abortion and same-sex marriage. They can’t vote him out, because they don’t get a vote in this process, only his fellow cardinals who hope he will protect their well-cushioned asses and all the perks.

There is something that seems to infect the media when those adoring, weepy, Catholic crowds fill Vatican Square waiting for that white smoke, as though for the second coming of Jesus,** automatically according him authority and Messianic qualities and Papal infallibility on “matters of faith and morals.” The media fall for it like freshly-pubescent teeny boppers for the next Justin Bieber. New Pope; rimes with new hope. It is as though all that bad stuff about abused children has been wiped off the screen and out of memory by re-runs of Boys Town and The Bells of St. Mary’s when the ole Vatican PR machine cranks up for another spin of the oldest con game since the first shaman figured out how to scare people into submission.

Compressed by Bernini’s parenthetical colonnades the media stand beside the other credulous behind the back ends of bulls with their prayerful hands out—waiting eagerly for the same old bullshit. And it is bullshit, because you don’t build new hope for the future of mankind on old fairytales.
© 2013, James A. Clapp (UrbisMedia Ltd. Pub. 3.29.2013)

*Nobody would ever consider a Jesuit humble; “crafty,” “clever,” “Jesuitical?” Yes, but humble?
**Survey- 48% of US Christ#851E8F