Jackass for the Hour: Chapter 10 – Most Holy Father, I speak of evil
The Cardinal Secretary of State did not have to be summoned, for he had also been waiting directly outside the Papal Apartment, guessing that he would be called to the meeting. By the time he entered the room – and the Pope’s private secretary had closed the door behind him, as was the practice in this pontificate – the Pope had already returned to the corner window, finding consolation in the words, Christus vincit… Without greeting him, or even looking at him, he said, “Sit down, Elzevir,” and then, “Continue what you were saying, Fidèle.”
“Your Holiness, as I was saying, you will be distanced from any direct connection with the proceedings, and, in the event of a decision none of us desires, from the execution of the penalty itself. I shall take the responsibility. The media will have access to the trial, ensuring the desired example of this priest on all points except one, and concerning that one point, he will be made into an example in a different way… by his repentance. After each session, I will provide the necessary explanations of obscurities, relieving the Holy See Press Office from any burden.”
“But how can this Alexámenos you speak about possibly be tried for heresy,” asked the Pope, “and with such a penalty hanging in the balance? From what you say, he is encouraging the Church to live its doctrinal heritage, to let it shine. He should be rewarded, and you should be the one to receive a just penalty for suffocating the mission of the Church.”
Cardinal Fidèle answered with new found confidence. “Your Holiness, the greatest problem in the modern church is the idea that the way in which one assents to the Faith does not also constitute part of the Faith. The greatest heresies today, the ones which do the most damage, involve methodology, cleverly destroying all that which underpins any assent to the Faith. The American-Australian catechesis wrought through ‘values clarification’ by way of a ‘hermeneutic-of-suspicion’ is a prime example. It destroys the Faith of untold numbers of children, the adults who teach them, and the priests and bishops who mandate such nonsense. The heretic’s question is: ‘How do you feel about it… really?’ whereas the real question is: ‘How do we cooperate with the sanctifying grace of Christ Jesus, who draws us into adoration, bringing us at the same time into a wholeness, a holiness of profound, integral reverence before Him?’ Moreover…”
“But the only thing this priest disagrees with, or is suspicious of, to use your word,” interrupted the Holy Father, “concerns matters of prudence. The only thing he wants is to firmly establish the text of Sacred Scripture from a Catholic perspective. Everyone has the right to agree or disagree on the implementation of disciplinary matters, in this case, how to go about such a project in its details. Of course, any such freedom must stop prior to sinful disobedience, which can lead to bitterness, apostasy and schism in the Church.”
“Precisely my point,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “except you speak of no more than this or that prudential matter. But this priest has taken centuries of precedents and has rejected them all. He has offended the maxim, In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas…”
“Centuries of precedents? Really? And what is the difference between necessary and unnecessary?” asked the Pope, testing. “And when has being in doubt ever justified any action?”
Cardinal Fidèle, wanting to hide his relativism, began to protest, “Augustine said this…”
“That is untrue,” retorted the Pontiff, “even if the Roman Curia mindlessly, or with rash political correctness, attributes these words to Augustine again and again. Each of those phrases is a specious paraphrase of other contexts; they never appear together. Ripping them out of context, rewriting them, and then juxtaposing them changes their meaning. When you hail unity in necessary things, liberty in doubtful things, and charity in all things, you sound like Melanchthon doing damage control for Luther, or even like Wesley. Causa finita est.”
“In effect,” Cardinal Fidèle continued, ignoring his protests, “Alexámenos has rejected that the Holy Spirit guides the Church, as if the Church has made damage control into a heroic virtue, a policy, whereby the suppression of truth thought to be inexpedient to unity is to be rewarded.”
“Phrases such as ‘in effect’ or ‘almost as if’ could send you to hell, Fidèle. What is the charge exactly? What is his methodological error concerning assent to the Faith?”
“To be precise, the charge against him, for which he must be brought to trial, is that he denies the authority of the Ordinary Magisterium to guide the Church,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “It is a heresy going to the heart of the Petrine mission. Peter is to be a Father who looks after his family. Ex cathedra statements are few and far between, but it is the daily teaching, the Ordinary Magisterium, which brings the Holy Father face to face with his children. If this Ordinary Magisterium enjoyed by the successor of Peter is considered to be dangerous, what will become of the Petrine Office? What shall become of the Roman Curia upon which he depends?”
“The successor of Peter,” said Pope Tsur-Ēzer, “does not depend on the Roman Curia. Moreover, from what you say, this priest has not claimed any denial of the Faith by any Pope in his office as the successor of Peter, speaking to the universal Church on a matter of Faith or morals. Tell me again, what is your point? Or is it simply that he has provided the courteous service to the Roman Curia of pointing out a few of their more egregious inconsistencies? Do not be a heretic, Fidèle, confusing the Roman Curia with the Ordinary Magisterium of Peter!”
“Your Holiness, it is best to let the trial sort things out. For now, we can agree to disagree…”
“With that statement, you show your true colours, Fidèle.”
“Your Holiness, I apologise for not being clear, but Elzevir, who is here, and Francisco, de Colines and Froben agree that if this priest were to be allowed to go on, he would destroy all that has been gained ecumenically, and risk delaying further union for centuries.”
“So, you yourself have made the suppression of the truth into heroic virtue,” said the Pontiff. “Why should you not be burned at the stake instead of this priest? Would you not agree that the Holy Spirit guided the Church in her dogmatic assertions in ecumenical councils, as he insists?”
“Yet,” replied Cardinal Fidèle, “the interpretation of the Extraordinary Magisterium of the Church is to be wrought with the Ordinary Magisterium, which this priest contests.”
“Does he?” asked the Pontiff. “Is he not just emphasising the contrary, correctly saying that the Ordinary Magisterium is to be interpreted by the exercise of the Extraordinary Magisterium?”
“However…” began the Cardinal.
“You are grasping at straws, Fidèle!”
“Your Holiness, I am merely saying that what Trent dogmatically declared to be helpful to a manuscript project could be done another way. The Holy Spirit is not bound to one way when another will do just as well. The Holy Spirit knows the needs of the Church better than we do, and we must follow His lead. God’s will is known through the provision of a consistent Ordinary Magisterium of the Church, as well as by the fruits of ecumenical unity which are almost visible on the horizon. Long after unity is achieved, it will be seen that Trent was correct in its own way. This will be appreciated and loved alongside the new way even if Trent is now utterly ignored.”
“Meanwhile,” said the Pontiff, “the Successor of Peter, according to your plan, will have had someone burned at the stake for this Truth, which will be cherished later. We will entrap him into being another Savonarola, for whom Saint Philip Neri, seemingly unaware of the whole story, had such profound respect. Yet, this priest has not challenged the exercise of Peter’s office.”
“Instead,” said Cardinal Fidèle, “it is not for what he believes about the way the Holy Spirit provided for the Church on 8 April 1546, during the Council of Trent, but rather that he pretends to forbid the Holy Spirit to provide for the Church in another way, at another time.”
Cardinal Elzevir said, “You’re a fraud, Fidèle. Yesterday you condemned Francisco and Froben for giving Scripture, Tradition and Magisterial authority away to the Protestants.”
“Word, Rule of Faith, and the capacity to Witness…” said the Holy Father, turning from the window to face them “… have not been entrusted by God to anyone but Holy Mother Church, which Christ Jesus founded and of which He remains the Head. Explain yourself, Fidèle.”
“Your Holiness,” replied Cardinal Fidèle, glaring at Cardinal Elzevir, “his Eminence exaggerates. I said they were mindlessly giving away this… Word, Rule of Faith, and the capacity to Witness. They do not realise what they do. At any rate, they do not have the authority.”
“Do I have the authority to sell out the Faith, Fidèle?” asked the Holy Father, testing him.
“You do not,” Cardinal Fidèle responded. “The most you could do is praise everyone for pretending to do this. Such an action on your part would set back any real appreciation of the deeper truth presented by Trent. However, it would help to preserve the little unity and peace we have left. Surely, this is what the Holy Spirit wants for the Church and the world at this time.”
“But how is it,” questioned the Pope, “that this hell of appeasement of which you speak could be something guided by the Holy Spir…?”
“It is not a hell!” interrupted Cardinal Fidèle. “The Lord brings good out of evil.”
“So, you repeat yourself. Who or what is evil, Fidèle?” asked the Holy Father. “And why are you accusing Alexámenos?” The Pontiff knew that Satan, the Accuser, could not be far. He clasped his hands together – reassuring himself with the Ring of the Fisherman, and silently repeated the exorcism, “Ecce crux Domini. Fugite partes adversæ.” The eyes of Cardinal Fidèle took on their ghastly appearance, and the demonic voice almost inaudibly said, “Sift… Burning…”
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“Drink some water,” said one of the nuns trying to help Jacinta, who felt that she was at the point of death in the chapel, where Mother Bernadette brought her after padre Emet had departed.
She could not speak, but Mother knew Jacinta’s anguish, and gave it voice: “‘Like water I am poured out; ripped out of joint are all my bones; my heart has become like wax; it is melted in the midst of my inmost parts.’ Christ cited Psalm 22 on the Cross. He’s wasting no time in putting you there,” Mother added. “The Lord doesn’t know the aphorism, ‘Festina lente!’ His love does not permit Him to make haste slowly. What a fitting name, FātIiimah of the Most Holy Trinity, nurtured by the fire of the Most Holy Trinity. How we are all sifted like wheat for the Lord!”
The nuns finally helped her to sit down, where she remained before the Blessed Sacrament.
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Cardinal Elzevir, sitting off to the side, could not see the eyes of Cardinal Fidèle or hear what was said. Pope Tsur-Ēzer walked over to Cardinal Elzevir, who stood up immediately. The Pope said, “He does not answer, Elzevir.”
“Your Holiness… it’s the first time he’s been without an answer.”
“We shall pray,” said the Pontiff. “Ave Maria,” he began, “gratia plena…” they continued. The Pope heard a noise behind him. He said, “Sit down, Elzevir.” Turning around, the Pontiff asked Cardinal Fidèle, “What were you saying about evil?”
“Most Holy Father, I speak of evil according to its proper definition, a lack of the fulness that something ought to have. That is not necessarily a moral evil, or even a formal denial of doctrine. The Holy Spirit can guide the Church to be preoccupied with other things and, meanwhile, rancour, remaining from previous conflicts, is quelled. The Holy Spirit makes the Church move forward in a new way, though without formally denying any past doctrine. I had to bring the Cardinals together to tell them of this doctrine of Trent that has long been forgotten, for there is no way that Alexámenos would have been able to keep his silence. In this way, the knowledge comes to the fore in a controlled manner, whereby the spirit of ecumenical dialogue that has been gained will not be lost… if we act to bring Alexámenos to his senses.”
“If Alexámenos has anything of which to repent,” said the Holy Father, carefully choosing his words, “how do you know he will repent?”
“His repentance will be proclaimed by Francisco after he answers questions about the ability of the Holy Spirit to guide a Holy Church whose members are sinful… your Holiness.”
“There are ten thousand times ten thousand examples of so-called Catholics who disagree with the teaching of the Church, whether of the Ordinary or the Extraordinary Magisterium,” said the Pope. “Why this priest, if he is guilty, and why now?”
“Because he, like so many young priests, are increasingly impatient with what they see as an overly tolerant administration of the Church,” replied Cardinal Fidèle, “as if such patience and new ways were not geared to the conversion of many, at least by the Holy Spirit. Alexámenos, unlike so many, has gone to the heart of the matter. It is because of this that he, of all of them, is to be made into an example. The others will fall into line.”
“This is almost a dishonest play on the naive ultramontanism of so many young priests, especially that of the Americans, and now, some of the Australians,” said the Pontiff.
“May I suggest, your Holiness, that your approach be that of defending Divine Mercy…”
“Mercy does not need any defence, Fidèle.”
“The young claim to be on the side of mercy,” Cardinal Fidèle continued, “and they will understand that if Alexámenos denies the role of the Holy Spirit in providing for the Church according to the exigencies in which she finds herself, that he is actually denying the role of the Holy Spirit to provide mercy for the Church, that this priest is militating against mercy. It is this spirit of rebellion which has so divided the Church today. We must live in the age of divine mercy, not of the advancement of one’s own agenda.”
“Instead,” said the Pope rhetorically. “I shall write an encyclical entitled, A merciful father disciplines his son, something about mercy being founded on justice.” After a few moments, he said, “Elzevir?” eliciting his evaluation.
“I am at a loss, your Holiness. I will follow your lead. I know he has convinced the others.”
“Typical Secretary of State… always so careful!” the Pontiff said out loud for the benefit of both Cardinals. He then prayed silently, “Dear Lord, let me know what to do for your suffering Church. I am a useless shepherd. Please, shepherd your flock.” Leaving the Cardinals behind, he walked past the corner window, and up to the one more directly facing Castel Sant’Angelo. In this pontificate, the shutters of these windows remained open. He quietly asked Saint Michael for enlightenment. He could only see the distant silhouette of the statue on top of the funerary monument against the leafless trees on the far side of the river from the Palazzo della Giustizia. He thought his eyes must be failing him, for he could not tell whether Saint Michael was facing the city of Rome across the river, or facing the Holy See. But then his expression changed as he stared at the skies. He remained like this for more than two minutes. The others could not see how devastated he was by what he saw, nor what was taking place within his soul. It was the defining moment of his pontificate. He turned to Cardinal Fidèle, saying, “I must speak with Alexámenos.”
Cardinal Elzevir gasped once again, thinking not of Father Alexámenos or any doctrinal concerns, but of all the work which was about to come his way.
Cardinal Fidèle’s face remained grave in appearance, but interiorly he was ecstatic, thinking that he had sufficiently won the Holy Father to his side. He said, “I will personally bring him to…”
“I will go to him myself!” interrupted the Pontiff.
“Your Holiness, this will be a fatherly intervention of mercy… toward the end of the trial.”
“Why not now?” asked Pope Tsur-Ēzer.
“I could no longer distance you from the trial or any regrettable penalty. Such an intervention is best done at the end. It would then be conducive to his conversion, which, of course, would be more effective as an example than a penalty inflicted upon him for any intransigence.”
“Even if he is guilty,” asked the Pontiff carefully, “why have such a penalty? Can we not be more genteel? We would risk being rejected by the faithful and the rest of the world.” For no reason discernable to Cardinals Fidèle and Elzevir, the Pontiff had agreed to the trial of Father Alexámenos. Cardinal Fidèle thought it was because of the respect he himself commanded among the politicians of so many countries due to the influence he exercised on their behalf for so many decades of manoeuvring the nominations of bishops who would do their bidding. He never took money; his influence peddling came at a much steeper political price. It was, in fact, because of this that the Holy Father paid attention to Cardinal Fidèle’s machinations, but it was not the reason why he seemed to capitulate to what the Prelate wanted. It was because of what he had seen at the window for two minutes just moments before this.
This secular use of ‘we’ used by the Pontiff pleased Cardinal Fidèle, and, taking advantage of this, the Cardinal said, “You will see that the whole world will disagree with your civility. All the requisite appeals will be made to Alexámenos for repentance at the end of his trial, appeals coming directly from you, Holy Father. I am sure that it will be precisely this fatherly concern of yours that will, ironically, win him over. There will be no burning at the stake, or any penalty for that matter. All will rejoice that mercy will win the day. You will be the hero of all, across generations, across any boundaries. But just when you think you’ve killed your enemies, that’s when they turn to kill you, and succeed, unless you insist upon mercy. Yet, things were in favour of Pope Tsur-Ēzer and Father Alexámenos in a way that Cardinal Fidèle could not understand.”
The Holy Father said, “Come!” They went to the Pope’s private chapel, keeping silence as they walked, and knelt before the Blessed Sacrament. For some minutes the Pontiff pondered the best way to do what he knew was the Lord’s will, knowing that the machinations of the Cardinal were demonic and far reaching. Finally, he said, “Not everyone accepts mercy, Fidèle. If Alexámenos refuses mercy – if that is what he needs – I do not want him handed over to the state authorities. He is not to be mistreated. The execution, if there is to be one, is to take place only at the time and place which I explicitly make known at that time. Moreover, it is I who, in that case, will direct someone from the Secretariat of State to light the fire.”
“Oh my God…” said Cardinal Elzevir. Scripture was more important than he had imagined.
“I know just the one, your Holiness,” said Cardinal Fidèle. The Pontiff waited. “He is also a young priest,” added Cardinal Fidèle, “a certain don Hash. He will begin at the Secretariat of State after ferragosto. He is a friend of Alexámenos.” The Holy Father groaned his disapproval. “Your Holiness, the more distressing this situation is, the greater pedagogical value it has for his fellow priests throughout the Church. But, I repeat, nothing will happen.”
“You are to make sure that his Confessor is made available to him throughout the ordeal,” said the Pontiff. “Alexámenos does have a Confessor, does he not?”
“Cardinal Emet,” said Cardinal Fidèle. “But he just recently went deep into retirement.”
The Holy Father did not respond. He was not sure whether Cardinal Fidèle knew that Cardinal Emet was also his own Confessor, and that he considered Cardinal Emet to be a living saint.
“Your Holiness,” continued Cardinal Fidèle, “may we have your blessing?”
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“It is I who will have to answer to the government if you get yourself into trouble once again,” said Archbishop Cromeu at the door of the Nunciature. “Where were you?”
“With the poor,” responded père Roger, defiantly. “Come to think of it, it would do you good to know some of the hell in which the poor live. Would you like to come with me?”
“You are nothing but a liability,” said the Archbishop. “The Nunciature cannot afford to give you diplomatic asylum from the government any longer. They don’t like your continual investigations into their corruption. All of them are corrupt. Get over it.”
“You know I’m doing pastoral work, Cromeu.”
“That’s why you’re under house arrest,” said the Nuncio. “Your particular style of Liberation Theology is too much for them.”
“What I do is too much only because they do nothing,” said père Roger.
“Just do me a favour,” said the Nuncio, finally getting to the point of the conversation.
“Which is?” asked père Roger.
“Leave Alexámenos out of your activities,” replied the Archbishop. “He’s due to arrive soon.”
“Is he now? I didn’t know,” père Roger lied. “And who is he anyway?” The Archbishop did not respond. “You know that I never deprive anyone of pastoral opportunities, especially those like you, who feel that they are somehow above the poor,” concluded père Roger.
Père Roger pushed by the Nuncio and went to his room. The Archbishop let his head drop and said, “It’s the best I can do for now, Lord. It must be what you want.” However, the prayer was not so much spoken to the Lord as it was a washing of his hands of what would happen soon.
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Pope Tsur-Ēzer walked them out, and watched as Cardinals Fidèle and Elzevir walked down the vaulted, ornate corridor between the Papal Apartment and the lift which would bring them down to the Courtyard of San Damaso. As they entered the lift, the Pope turned around, hesitated – realising more deeply what had just happened – and told one of the Swiss Guards to have Cardinal Emet summoned. Father Lia-Fáil was still returning from Mater Ecclesiæ convent.
When the Cardinals reached the lift at the far end of the corridor, Cardinal Elzevir told one of the Swiss Guards there to alert the guards near Casa Santa Marta, the Holy Office and Porta Sant’Anna as to the arrival of don Hash, saying that he should be directed past the Courtyard of San Damaso and into that of the Apostolic Palace, the old general entrance of the Institute of Religious Works.
Having driven along Lungotevere, don Hash crossed the river, circled in front of the hospital of Santo Spirito, turned right to go through the tunnel underneath the Pontifical Urban University. When he spoke to the guard at the entrance near Domus Santæ Martæ, it was 11:30 A.M. He circled around the Basilica and was waved by the guard into the Sentinel, Borgia and Pappagalli courtyards. When he drove into the spacious Courtyard of San Damaso, he was told to drive into the tiny Courtyard of Sixtus V, around which the Apostolic Palace was built.
He finally saw Cardinal Fidèle talking with Cardinal Elzevir and pulled up beside them. As he waited, he noted that the only other vehicles were a black car and another gray, rusty vehicle, which bore a Vatican licence plate.
After Cardinal Elzevir was gently warned not to be late for lunch, Cardinal Fidèle entered the car, remarking that don Hash was late, though it was only 11:32 A.M. The Secretary of State then went to the Tower of Saint John to take care of some transactions.
Just above, in the Papal Apartment, Father Lia-Fáil, who had just arrived, informed the Pope, firstly, that Mother Bernadette had said that she had not been surprised to see the contents of the envelope, and, secondly, that, after some quick phone calls, it was discovered that there had been some changes at the Basilica of San Lorenzo in Damaso. Cardinal Emet was nowhere to be found.
“He couldn’t disappear in just one day,” exclaimed the Pope. But then he recalled that Cardinal Fidèle had said something about his going into retirement. He also remembered that Cardinal Emet had once told him about his religious vocation, which he received in the Cave of Elijah on Mount Carmel, above Haifa. “Send a car to Regina Decor Carmeli,” said the Pontiff.
Up next: Chapter 11 – If worse comes to worst…
© International 2005-2018 – George David Byers