It’s hard to justify slapping an old man in a dress, but B16 has earned it. He can’t seem to get a non-offensive word out of his mouth.
He pardoned a weird English bishop hiding out in Argentina without doing the simple homework that would have shown the guy to be a Holocaust-denier. After getting some irate phone calls from significant world-leaders, he un-un-excommunicated the weird bishop, announcing that the guy would need to distance himself from that kind of thinking before the Vatican would exonerate him.
Why did B16 spend time trying to legitimize that bishop? He did so, as part of his continuous effort to strengthen the extremely conservative end of the Roman Catholic Church. (The weird bishop had been ordained by a renegade archbishop who was bitterly opposed to some of the modernizing changes made to Catholicism in the second half of the 20th century.)
In an unprecedented harrumph, B16 wrote a letter to all the Catholic bishops on the planet with what seemed to be an apology for having made a mistake, but what turned out to be a gripe. He was pissed that the faithful did not rally immediately to support him but rather were among the first and most ferocious to attack him. In the same letter, he goes on to say that he will be paying more attention to what is being said about him on the internet! This is a spectacular disclosure because it shows us his true colors. He is a man who plays to an audience. But he is also a man who has no clue about that audience. He is very much like the elderly Diana Ross, wondering why she can no longer fill an arena, but too proud to play a lounge or a casino.
A quick trip to Africa is a great way for a pope to feel the love. It’s one of the few places where Catholicism is growing. Let’s not however, pretend, as does B16, that the reason for that growth is love for God’s word as presented by Catholic clergy and nuns. It has more to do with the fact that in the poorest parts of the world, a parish hall with a ping pong table and a case of colored sugar water is bound to attract kids who will then learn to sing hymns. Cue Crosby in The Bells of St. Mary. Those who live in poverty, holding no Miley Cyrus tickets, will run in hordes to the tarmac to cheer the well-shod exotic in immaculate white and his magenta circus.
While on the papal jet, even before his arrival in Africa, B16 delivered his opinion that condoms might actually be part of the cause of the HIV epidemic. He supposed that we would all appreciate his logic. Abstinence is a perfect preventative. Condoms sometimes fail. Therefore, substituting condoms for abstinence facilitates an increase in the spread of HIV.
I was fascinated by the reaction to this. It seemed to reflect an exhaustion on the part of those who hope for excellence and inspiration from a pope, and are ordinarily angered when they receive the opposite. The world seems to have finally made up its mind that B16 is a Gerontius, a dull head among windy spaces. We don’t much mind the prattling of such a one but we would never be guided by his bitterly irrelevant words. We allow this type of old man a comfortable route to the grave. We are respectful of a lifetime spent wrestling with big issues and reaching big conclusions. But the world moves forward and the old man’s voice grows weaker. The naked children who ran to greet him in Africa grow up to learn the meaning of suffering and disease. They vaguely recall his gleaming smile.
Attention must be paid to such a man. Pope Willy Loman is speaking. It won’t hurt us to kiss his ring while it is still warm.