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Jan-27-2014 13:20printcomments

The Vatican (Still) At The Crossroads

When you come to a fork in the road, take it. -Yogi Berra

Bird attacking bird at Vatican
AP photo

(DAYTONA BEACH) - News item: The Vatican - Two large seagulls attacked white doves released from a balcony by Pope Francis during his weekly Angelus prayer in front of tens of thousands of worshippers gathered in St. Peter's Square. The peace gesture followed the Pope's prayer for Ukraine, where at least three people were killed during clashes that have left Kiev in flames. The seagulls are believed to be from the Adriatic, close to the Balkans and therefore communist sympathizers.

The unprovoked attack recalled an identical event just a year ago, when then-Pope Benedict was celebrating his Altar Boy of The Year Awards and Festival from the same balcony. The earlier event was the subject of the following account at that time. Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose..

A recent shocking news item from the Vatican illustrates the crisis faced by the Church today. More importantly, perhaps, it heightens the inspiring story of how a simple but courageous Pope (whom one critical observer has called "half god-head, half dick-head") was striving - even prior to his subsequent resignation, and perhaps even because of it, to bring his flock into the 21st Century. And that last number is not a typo.

Benedict XVI stood at his window (it was formerly a balcony, but it has been under repair since the last exorcism*), greeting a huge throng of less than 3,000 of the faithful in St. Peter's Square. (Actual SRO capacity is 1.5 mill, not counting the Swiss Guards and other security.) The sell-out crowd was there for twin occasions. According to the Associated Press, the pontiff was addressing the crowd in observance of Holocaust Remembrance Day, observed internationally as a memorial service and a Papal atonement for predecessor, Pope Pius XII, who in 1944 apparently was Scripturally-challenged, congratulating German Foreign Minister Von Ribbentrop instead of "choosing the Jews." (Pius later issued a papal correction explaining that he thought Auschwitz was a boys' choir in Anzio.)

The second of the dual celebrations by Benedict XVI was the annual Altar Boy of The Year Award, which explains the two young boys flanking the Pope in the window, in fact the winner and runner-up. (First prize, a night in the Pope's private suite; second prize, two nights.) The 3,000 in the audience were the unsuccessful contestants, which explains why they were cheering.

But the description of what followed is best summed up by the Associated Press, reporter on the spot, as reported by the New York Daily News:

"He (Il Papa) had just finished saying the Angelus prayer when he released two doves out the window (white doves mean Peace, get it? It's a Pope fixation. I think it was employed as far back as Cesar Borgia, when he attempted to make peace with his wife, who was also his daughter Lucretia.)

"Just after Pope Benedict released the doves, one of them was attacked and pinned against the wall by a seagull. One report said that a second seagull frisked him.

"The incident serves to illustrate the uphill struggle the present Pope has faced in creating a new era of open transparency and humanism by the Holy See. In other words a little more Holy Do, not to mention Holy Hear."

As might have been expected, Huffington Post couldn't resist putting a secular interpretation on the event, and getting off an irreverent shot: "Displaying the brutal truths of Darwinism for thousands to see, a seagull attacked a dove of peace released by Pope Benedict XVI."

But serious Catholic writers, your Editor included, chose to point out the veritable Renaissance that has marked the enlightened ascendancy of Benedict XVI, often referred to in private Vatican circles as "Bennie the Lefty."

Fifty years ago, the church embarked on a soul-searching self-examination when Pope John XXIII invited bishops from around the world to the Second Vatican Council. (The First Vatican Council had taken place in 1493, when it was decided to invent the Papal Bull that would make one universal parish out of everything Christopher Columbus had come up with, and then some. The theme of the First Vatican Council was "Parish The Thought.")

The Second Vatrican Council, it was announced, would "open the windows of the Church to the modern world." The announcement had nothing to do with the window where Benedict in a simple gesture symbolically released the white doves that had been reproducing in Cesar Borgia's former bedroom ever since the Lucretia business. In fact the Borgia wing has been closed for centuries because of the dove excrement.

But 1962 was a heady time for Church progressives, with the first Catholic American President entertaining female interns in the Oval Office, priests taking time off from celebrating with their altar boys to get involved in civil rights and other moral transcendence. Fortunately, it didn't last, the assembled bishops noted. Jerry Falwell came to the rescue by restoring the public image of the religious right, the Holy See saw.

But today, with Catholic politicians like Rick Santorum muddying the political discourse and uppity nuns challenging the old guard (His name is Old Antoine, the head Swiss Guard), by lobbying for equal rights for women and altar boys instead of washing the feet of the poor, thinking Catholic writers are re-asserting the fact that the Vatican stands at a crossroad, and it's fervently hoped that Benedict XVI is bipolar enough to take us, like Yogi Berra, down both paths.

But to get back to the Bishop's Council, they actually met for three years and came up with some of the most ground-breaking changes since Joan of Arc was lit up. Biggies like building ecumenical bridges, even with the Anglicans, who still consider Henry VIII justified as an early Brigham Young, with more sack-time than Sinatra. And of course the giant strides made in Jewish relations, such as the historic Papal Visit to the Middle East, where he uttered the famous declaration: "Mrs. Golda Meier, tear down this Wailing Wall!" And the greatest innovation of all, when Mass was permitted to be celebrated in English or Swahili, depending on the locale. Latin was relegated to medical prescriptions decipherable only by pharmacists under the separate jurisdiction of Big Pharma. Formerly, these profound changes had been considered heresies.

An American Jesuit theologian, John Courtney Murray, formerly reprimanded by the Vatican when he wrote about conscience and religious freedom, now became a poster boy for the Council. It was not long before nuns were emerging from convents and their suffocating black robes, sporting hair bands, slacks and loafers, doing stuff like working in blighted communities and being exposed to socialism. From there it was only the briefest of steps to considering women's equality and that of altar boys.

"Many nuns took on leadership positions that belied antiquated stereotypes," wrote one astonished journalist. Clearly something had to be done.

Pope Paul VI provided the answer, declaring birth control to be an "intrinsic evil" even for married couples. He was listened to in some areas such as rural Quebec and downtown Manila. John Paul II cracked down on "liberation theology" doctrine, reasserted sexual conservatism to the extent that he defended the all-male priesthood, as well as all-male altar-boyhood.

Paul also vehemently denied that there was any hanky-panky going on in that regard.

Latterly, Benedict has followed this grand old conservative tradition, cracking down on an upstart Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which represents most U.S nuns. The Vatican recently ordered these former ladies to cease "promoting radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith." Enough of social justice. Get your black -clad asses back to where they belong - opposing abortion and homosexuality, even though the two - at least for thinking Catholics, who had become almost extinct - seemed to be mutually exclusive.



*What of the Vatican at the crossroads? A new enlightenment is taking place, spearheaded by a solitary figure in the person of Reverend Kevin Annett. Cast like a frisbee out of the United Church of Canada, he eventually ended up in St. Peter's Square in his quest for truth, where he promptly conducted a rite of exorcism, bidding the evil spirits to depart from that place and to take their damn pigeons with them.

Twelve hours later a devastating (and unprecedented) tornado tore at central Rome and The Vatican. And - definitely ante-climactic - the other day, Adriatic seagulls at the Pope's window seconded the motion.

Even before the advent of Humble Frank, the crossroads had become a traffic circle.


Bill Annett grew up a writing brat; his father, Ross Annett, at a time when Scott Fitzgerald and P.G. Wodehouse were regular contributors, wrote the longest series of short stories in the Saturday Evening Post's history, with the sole exception of the unsinkable Tugboat Annie.

At 18, Bill's first short story was included in the anthology “Canadian Short Stories.” Alarmed, his father enrolled Bill in law school in Manitoba to ensure his going straight. For a time, it worked, although Bill did an arabesque into an English major, followed, logically, by corporation finance, investment banking and business administration at NYU and the Wharton School. He added G.I. education in the Army's CID at Fort Dix, New Jersey during the Korean altercation.

He also contributed to The American Banker and Venture in New York, INC. in Boston, the International Mining Journal in London, Hong Kong Business, Financial Times and Financial Post in Toronto.

Bill has written six books, including a page-turner on mutual funds, a send-up on the securities industry, three corporate histories and a novel, the latter no doubt inspired by his current occupation in Daytona Beach as a law-abiding beach comber.

You can write to Bill Annett at this address:



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