A recent internal Vatican memo for the attention of Pope Benedict , written in German, and leaked to an Italian newspaper, reports some controversial assertions allegedly made by the Cardinale of Palermo, the capital city of Sicily, Mons. Paolo Romeo, during a private, non-official visit to China last November where he met with some Italian and Chinese businessmen. It would seem that a participant or participants at the meeting had been so disconcerted by some of the things said by Cardinale Romeo, that it was deemed appropriate to advise the Vatican directly and hence the memo.
The contents allude to the assertion that the” pope will die within a year “. In addition it intimates that relationship between the Pope and his secretary of State, Cardinale Tarcisio Bertone are strained , and whilst the former would like to change his secretary of state for reasons of incompatibility, the latter is highly influential in his recommendations of high ranking members for the Curia ( the Vatican Government).
There is talk about a power struggle within the church for the pope’s successor but…….is the pope going to die. Well, his is 86. Does he have some terminal illness? Who knows! My best friend kept his cancer a secret from everybody, except his wife, until almost the last moment. Furthermore, even the most mediocre of public figures receive some kind of death threats. If the institutional figure of the pope wasn’t a possible target then he wouldn’t be surrounded by elitist outfits like the Swiss guard. ( don’t let the dainty, colorful ceremonial uniforms you see outside the gates of St. Peter’s fool you. The regular guards are highly trained, special forces types who are ready to die to save the Pope.)
I must say that most of my catholic friends couldn’t care less who the next pope is. Whether he is black or white, Hispanic or Italian is not going to change how they see God or how they live their faith. Faith is faith, God is God and they don’t depend on a formal structure. Their sense of right and wrong is personal, and very much aligned, morally speaking, with civic law or western civic morals. Abortion, homosexuality, contraception, euthanasia, sex-before-marriage etc are issues which they have decided on, all by themselves. On the other hand, they appreciate the beauty of Vatican Museums, the splendor of St. Peters Basilica, and the legacy of ecclesiastical involvement in the commissioning of art, sculpture, and architecture throughout the centuries etc. They would like to see the church more transparent, but here, they are being naive. Like every institution in the real world, the Vatican state must protect and defend itself. It must justify or self-justify its existence.
The roman catholic church is a state called the Vatican. Clerics, no matter what their rank, are “ nominated” by a member or members of an immediate higher rank. The only time this is inverted is when the Pope is elected. Many popes throughout the ages have been from rich, influential families with real military power or the money to buy it. (Remember too, that even the Swiss guards were mercenaries, famous for their discipline and loyalty to their employer, and serving not only as bodyguards and ceremonial guards, but also, as front line troops in many European armies until the 19th century.) Today papal power is less about military power and more about political and financial influence. Battles take place in the Curia and in the Banks. In fact while Pope Benedict was still only a cardinal he was nominated by the Times as among the 100 most influential people in the worlds.
Many Popes have been quite controversial by today’s standards and up until the 15th century this is well documented. Pope Stephen VI (896–897), for example, had his predecessor exhumed, his decaying body placed on a throne and then tried, de-fingered, briefly reburied, and finally thrown in the Tiber. Another one, called Pope Urban VI (1378–1389), a famously violent type, though interestingly enough the last non-cardinal to be nominated Pope. Anyhow, as soon as he was elected he enacted some important reforms forbidding the curia to take money and favours for their work or to be “paid” by rich families. On the face of it, this might seem quite Christian in spirit, though the motivation was political. Needless to say, many cardinals conspired against him and he unmasked many a plot against him. It is said he complained that he did not hear enough screaming when Cardinals who had conspired against him were tortured. Then there was Pope Leo, from the famously rich and powerful de Medici Family, who was elected in 1513 and he wasn’t even a priest, but a deacon. Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) of the powerful Borgia family is claimed to have issued papal bulls to allow the new world colonial powers to enslave the native populations, though some Vatican scholars contest this interpretation. The same Alexander is also famous for his sexual virility and had many mistresses. Indeed he is also remembered in a very well documented and detailed account of the notorious “Banquet of Chestnuts” in 1501.
In short, rumours, controversy, politics, power, sex and money have always been part of every institution in the world and the Roman Catholic Church, as an institution, has had its fair share. So, is there a plot to kill the Pope? I hope not. Is the Pope going to die? Of course, he is, but maybe not for a long time yet. My grandfather live happily and actively into his hundreds. One thing is for sure, if anything should happen to this pope within the next 12 months, then we are sure to be bombarded with plots, counter-plots and tons of rubbish journalism for the entire life of his successor. Rent an apartment in Rome. Have a holiday. Be at the centre of the action.