A Day of Reckoning in Rome

There are few words that ring more bitter, cold and hollow in the mother tongue of the Church than Sede Vacante.

The Benedict formerly known as the Roman Pontiff has left the ecclesial stage. Having spoken to two separate clerical correspondents in the Vatican who were present around His former Holiness in these last few weeks, one of whom was there at his departure in the helicopter today, Benedict is “startlingly thin”, has lost all vision in one eye and is falling prey to regular dizzy spells. These are all symptoms commensurate with advancing brain cancer.

As was noted earlier, there is little reason for a Pope, or and bishop for that matter, to resign because of failing health unless he fears he may lose mental function and be unable to resign validly.

We have no wish to engage in idle speculation. But it is safe to assume that a man with as great a love for the Church, respect for tradition and knowledge of the law as Benedict had more on his mind when he resigned than a quite beer with his brother.

Having clarified canon law on the conclave, ensuring that the college may meet as soon as they are fully assembled the Vatican and not have to wait 15 days, Benedict has ensured that the period of Sede Vacante will be no longer than it must be.

After the clear consensus before the last conclave, we return to the more traditional ‘anyone’s guess’ ofwho will emerge on the balcony. But what we can predict is that, for the first time in many years, the reform of the Curia is perhaps the most serious and pressing issue they shall have to contend with. The casual practices, questionable networks and lax attitudes of civil Rome have shown themselves to have invasive roots which need aggressive pruning.

Meanwhile, across the Tiber, the secular state of ‘Italy’ has, in a demonstration of mass self awareness, actually voted for a professional comedian, Signore Beppe Grillo, to lead their ‘government’. Because of the unique institutional realities of Roman ‘democracy’, it is not yet clear who will be appointed Prime Minister, nevertheless the current front runner is believed to be Silvio Burlesqueoni, who’s party recievd some 26% of the vote.

On either side of the Eternal City, predicting the outcome of an election is a fool’s game.

Your Guide to the (other) Roman Election

As the College of Cardinals prepares to gather in the Eternal City for their solemn deliberations and the Vatican press office hints at possible last minute changes to the laws governing Sede Vacante, across the Tiber there is another change of Government to be examined. The secular state of ‘Italy’ is currently preparing to hold ‘elections’, and with the return of Silvio Burlesqueoni to the contest it is sure to make for entertaining viewing.

In deference to those whose education was light on the classics, I shall offer a brief resumé of electoral tradition in Rome as a window into current events.

In the glorious days of ancient Rome, the inhabitants of the city, known as ‘citizens’, were organised into geographical constituencies for the systematic distribution of bribes by candidates for public office.

The Senate, which was unelected, functioned as a venue for the coquettishly dressed, metrosexual elite to sit among their peers and read poetry aloud, analogous to our modern Starbucks Coffee shops.

From time to time, retired war heroes, scions of the nobility and winners of a gladiatorial version of Strictly Come Dancing would walk through the streets of Rome attempting to incite riots. The two most successful at this were proclaimed ‘consuls’. The function of the dual-consulship was to ensure administrative paralysis.

Government existed mostly in the form the generals of Rome’s legions of well trained and expertly marshalled soldiers. These were perpetually marched backward and forward across the French to pick fights with the Germans, popping home from time to time to proclaim themselves Supreme Dictator for Life.

Despite the haphazard nature of Government, ancient Rome gave birth to some of the greatest works of literature, architecture and philosophy known to man. Following the decline of the Western Empire, custody of the city passed to the Church, which lovingly preserved the treasures which formed her temporal patrimony.

Modern ‘Italy’ was founded in the late 19th century by a swarthy Lombard freemason named Garibaldi. He, like many modern Italians, was out of work and swanning about Europe with a large pair of sunglasses perched on his head. Through the improbable tightness of his trousers, he persuaded the wives of many an important man to subscribe large sums for him to raise an army to march on Rome.

Today, ‘Italy’ has what we in the trade call a perfectly bicameral system of proportional representation. This means that two legislative bodies, with identical and mutually nullifying powers, are ‘elected’ by a complicated combination of sexual harassment, gerrymandering and Buggin’s turn.

The business of Government is handled by the Prime Minister, also called the President of the Council of Ministers. While often said to be seeking election, candidates for this position are appointed solely by the ‘President of the Italian Republic’; a shadowy figure who, while traditionally unnameable by Italians, is widely believed abroad to be German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

With these details at their fingertips, it is hoped that members and friends will be able to enjoy an informed view of the proceedings.

From the ashes of Communism…

Reading the Daily Telegraph yesterday, I came across an extraordinary story. The headline says it all:

Mikhail Gorbachev admits he is a Christian.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Communist leader of the Soviet Union, has acknowledged his Christian faith for the first time, paying a surprise visit to pray at the tomb of St Francis of Assisi.

Read the full story at the paper’s website here. What can one say about this? To be sure, I do not know which is more surprising – that Gorbachev is a Christian or that he has a particular devotion to St Francis of Assisi. One would expect a Russian to be devoted to one of the tougher saints, let’s say, the likes of Ignatius of Loyola or Ambrose!

Having said that, I am very surprised that Gorbachev has anything to do with specifically Catholic Saints at all. It is rare that I hear of any positive interaction between the Catholic Church and Russian Orthodox, to which the last leader of the Soviet Union belongs. Maybe, just maybe, Gorbachev could be a positive influence here. At any rate, I am sure his prayers will be.

Judicial Sloggers in Italy

Gamesmanship at the crease – in the form of sledging – recently came under close scrutiny when Australia found that it could not take it as well as it has traditionally given it. 

Now, gamesmanship before the law – in the form of lying – is receiving similar attention after the Court of Cassation in Italy ruled that it is acceptable for a woman to lie about having an affair in order to protect her honour. The full story is at BBC On-Line here.

You might have thought that in having an affair, the woman had laid aside her honour, but the judges disagreed. How has this come about? Well, Italy may be the Catholic heart of Europe, but she is also the country of the bella figura where giving a good impression of oneself is regarded as being not just a good thing to do but necessary. Perhaps this blinded the judges to the implications of their ruling.

Or, it may be that these judges are, well, a bit mad, for as the BBC article points out, they are they same judges who once said that a woman who wore tight jeans could not be raped as they could only be removed with her consent.

Whatever the truth of the matter, let’s just hope that the cuckold never asks the judge why he is so fat… 

The Haka

As can be seen from a previous entry the RCC chaps tend to be folk who find Tradition (whether within sport, the Faith or in culture and society generally) something they would really rather like to hang on to. The Haka as a part of the rituals of international rugby matches HAS been up until now been a part of Tradition – hallowed by time and ritual performance. In 1905 New Zealand made their first tour of Britain. It is reported that they performed a Haka before their first test, against Scotland, and certainly before the match against Wales. The Welsh crowd, led by the Welsh team, responded by singing the Welsh national anthem.

 In recent years it has been seen by some as a rather unsporting attempt to ‘psych-out’ the opposition and there have been different responses to it. Usually teams will face the Haka leaving respectful distance of 10 yards or so. Some teams have ignored it – Australia in a test in Wellington in 1996 went on to a record defeat at the hands of the All Blacks. Likewise Italy went down 76-14 against the All Blacks trying the same technique during the current World Cup pool matches.

Some have tried a more aggressive approach. In 1997 the England hooker Richard Cockerill stood toe-to-toe with Norm Hewitt during the Haka to the point where the referee intervened to avoid bloodshed. The game was a 26-26 draw. Likewise the French team faced down the Haka wearing co-ordinated track-suit tops to form a Tricouleur. They dumped the Kiwis from the tournament to face  ignominy at home. So perhaps the All Blacks (and other South Sea island teams) do try to use this tradition to their advantage (much in the same way that liturgists drag up some imagined practice of the Early Church). They need to be faced down. Well, either that or you could try what the Aussies do best – questioning their manhood (see below).

 By the way – did I mention that neither team made it past the quarter finals? Tally ho!

Cordial greetings to Dom Duarte

The rightful King of Portugal, Dom Duarte, will be 62 on 15 May.  Some splendid chaps have set up a means of sending His Royal Highness greetings on his birthday.

Go to www.forum-democracia-real.org/a_parabens_sar.htm and fill in the form (sorry – you’ll have to copy and paste as I can’t get wordpress to show me how to do a link):

 “Nome” means Christian Name; “Apelido” means Surname; “Email” means “E-mail address”; “Localidade” means “Where I am posting from”; “Mensagem” is the place to write your best wishes for HRH’s birthday”; and “Enviar” is the button to click to send them.  The English language will be fine.

 And you are waiting for what?