I’m nauseated by the coverage of the change in the papacy.
It’s not that I have a problem with the new pope, because I don’t. He seems a very humble man and his focus on the poor is commendable.
What’s wrong is not even his fault.
I’m talking about the constant references to the “fact” that he is the personal representative on earth of Jesus Christ.
It’s also frequently said that he is the 266th pontiff, a direct successor to St. Peter, who started the Catholic Church.
If that’s true, then Peter has a lot to answer for!
The Catholic Church today sets a very good example in some respects, adhering strictly to conservative teachings that most churches long since abandoned – just as their members have, in turn, abandoned them. Pope Francis I is only going to boost the church with his stated interest in the poor and his very approachable manner. Leaders of other churches should take note – not all churches are led by what you might call “people-people.” Certainly, religious leaders are not generally humble. At the same time, it has become the accepted norm for religious leaders to live in big houses and enjoy a high standard of living.
But the Catholic Church, the wealthiest organization on earth, has not always had the image it has now. Its history has been violent and sordid. You only have to watch Showtime’s The Borgias to see this. (Please note: The Borgias is remarkably historically accurate for a television series.) The Borgias were a wealthy Italian family in the late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries who got control of what was a very corrupt church – and made it even more corrupt. Pope Alexander VI, a Borgia, left his wife behind and took a mistress whom he kept in the Vatican. His son, meanwhile, was made a Cardinal and had a reputation for constant debauchery. Alexander got to the papacy through bribery, threats, and even murder. The political shenanigans that went on would embarrass most politicians in the world today.
Even that wasn’t the worst period in the church’s history. In the ninth and tenth centuries, a Catholic monk labeled the government of the church “the pornocracy,” the government of filth. Google that word sometime and you can read all about it. There was even a female pope – a woman masquerading as a man who rose to the highest office and was only discovered when she gave birth to a child while surrounded by a crowd in Rome.
“If Peter came back as a pilgrim, how would he judge what goes on in the Vatican by the standards of the gospel?” This question was asked by a former priest and graduate of Gregorian University in Rome, Peter de Rosa, in his 1988 book “Vicars of Christ” (page 26).
He then notes the contrast between the relative poverty of the disciples with the great wealth of today’s church. “Jesus was born in a stable. In his ministry, he had nowhere to lay his head. Today, his Vicar inhabits a palace with eleven thousand rooms. And then there is Castelgandolfo, overlooking the Alban Lake where pontiffs go to escape the summer heat.” Here, in a palace bigger than the Vatican, Pope John Paul II had a private swimming pool installed.
“Jesus renounced possessions … Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, he said, where neither rust nor moth can spoil it. Christ’s Vicar lives surrounded by treasures, some of pagan origin. Any suggestion that the pope should sell all he has and give to the poor is greeted with derision as impractical. The rich young man in the gospel reacted in the same way.” Will Pope Francis be different? He has already said he wished the Church was poor.
On the next page he points out another contrast. “The celibacy of the clergy, popes included, might also surprise Peter, seeing that Jesus chose him, knowing he was married.”
He expresses consternation at the pope’s grand title “Pontifex Maximus,” “for in his (Peter’s) time, that was the title of the pagan high priest of Rome.”
At great length, he explains that the papacy’s claim to go right back to Jesus Christ is inaccurate and a convenient misreading of scripture. (I will post something on this on another day.) The legitimacy of the Church is based on this claim and gives them a big advantage over other churches – but it is totally, biblically and historically without basis!
Can Pope Francis really make a difference? Two thousand years of history suggests not. His age (76) is also against him.
But, if nothing else, he may be able to encourage some self-examination on the part of the government of the Church – the Roman Curia, the bloated bureaucracy that effectively controls the Church. Looking at history, he is unlikely to make it worse.
As for television reporters, please read more history and get some depth!