COLUMN: Pontiff-Vacation

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

From the years 1492 to 1503, Rodrigo Borgia abused the power of his office to an extent that historians to this day fall over themselves in scathing rebuke. Though not all the allegations against Borgia are historical fact, the list of scandals charged against him include: Attaining power through massive bribes, turning the palace from which he ruled into a party zone where orgies were frequently held, using his daughter as a political pawn to marry off to powerful men, placing his mistress and closest family members into positions of power and privilege and being incestuous with his own daughter, including siring one of her children.

These are serious accusations. And given what office Borgia held, contemporary minds have to shake their head in disgust at the acts charged against him. Borgia, during these years, was known as Pope Alexander VI.

And now, five centuries later, we have another pontiff—pontiff being a word of French origin meaning path maker, or possibly bridge crosser—Pope Benedict XVI. The former Joseph Ratzinger has announced this past week that he will resign the Papacy due to ill health.

This is nearly an unprecedented move. No pope has voluntarily resigned since Celestine V in 1215. Celestine, a devout monk, openly refused the office. Just five months after being cajoled to take the title, he resigned to go back to his life a solitude. What part of “the guy is a monk” didn’t the electing cardinals understand?

I wonder what retiring popes do. Given Benedict’s age, he most likely will rest and live outside of the public eye. I would like to imagine a younger, healthier pope leaving this office. Maybe he would vacation down in the Caribbean; or, take in a Lakers basketball game, sitting right next to Jack Nicholson; or, dare I ask, “Dancing With the Stars”?

I will credit Benedict for this, he learned from recent history. His predecessor, John Paul II stayed on way too long. John Paul was one of the most important people from the 20th Century. The first non-Italian pope since the mid-16th century, he was a key figure in the disintegration of communism in eastern Europe, as well as waving his pious finger at unabridged capitalism, which he saw as the enemy of Christian thought in regards to taking care of the poor and afflicted. He also was an outspoken critic of the U.S invasion of Iraq in 2003.

But, he grew old. In his last years, he did not see, nor could he most likely comprehend the continuing cover-up involving sexual abuse of children at the hands of Catholic priests. This scandal, the reverberations from which might take several generations to subside, has put a stain on the Catholic Church and its legitimacy to speak out on moral issues.

And now with Benedict’s resignation, we all get to experience one of the great events of tradition and ritual in our modern world, the Papal Conclave.

Like most things in European-Catholic history, the Conclave–a word derived from Latin, meaning ‘with key’–was born out of political necessity. In the late 13th Century, a host of rivals to the legitimate Papacy existed throughout Europe. The Conclave was instituted to ensure that one Bishop of Rome was chosen and recognized as the (in theory) unquestioned Holy Father. The Conclave literally locked every cardinal of the church into a room and they were not permitted out until a new pope was chosen.

While the modern rules of the Conclave are much less barbarous—I assume they have indoor plumbing in the current location—the ceremony of locking a bunch of old guys into a single building until they reach a decision is fascinating in its premise. Americans should consider if this idea should be implemented for our own politicians.

On his election, the new pope takes upon himself, if he chooses, a papal name. This is always the most sought-out information regarding the new pope. What do we call this guy?

The taking of a papal name is a tradition that is 1,500 years old. When Mercurius was elected pope in 533, he wanted to avoid the awkwardness of being named for the Roman god Mercury. So, in one of the first PR moves in recorded history, he went by John II.

Papal names are not necessary. And, most curiously, the Catholic Church has never set criteria regarding what names can be used. A new pope can easily call himself Bud or Chip. I guess if we ever have a Utahn elected, we can look forward to Pope Jaxton, or Pope Kayden.

The only Peter to be pope was the first Peter. The original Peter. Yeah, THAT Peter. Talk about big shoes to fill! Surprisingly, there has never been a Pope Thomas. Given the reverence most Catholics hold for Thomas Aquinas and Thomas More, you would think one pope in the last few centuries would have taken that name. And there have never been a pope who took the names Robert, Michael, James or Joseph.

Maybe one of the TV networks can hire Matt Le Blanc to star in a new sitcom, “Pope Joey.”

There have been 13 popes named Innocent. Given the current scandals plaguing the church, they should welcome any future pope who proclaims he is innocent.

In March, the world’s one billion Catholics will have a new pope who will have a lot on his plate. The reconciliation of trust between the Catholic clergy amongst its followers is the highest, but far from the only priority the new pontiff will have to address. The College of Cardinals can pick an old man or young, conservative or progressive, European or not as the new pope. The decision will be debated before and after the decree of Habemus Papam!–We have a Pope!–is announced. Regardless of who ascends to this important office, I hope that grace and fortitude of spirit will be embodied in him.

The world needs great leaders right now.

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