We Americans -- well, a lot of us -- are strangely fascinated with monarchs.
Give us a royal wedding, even of ceremonial monarchs like the British royal family, and the press coverage explodes. There is a vast and eager audience. Ratings are high. Live streams, live blogging, endless photographs, comparable to any presidential inaugural or a war or other events that actually bear directly on our lives.
I don't wish to begrudge anyone their interest in the royals or their enjoyment of the spectacle. By all means, enjoy. Speaking for myself it leaves me a little cold. Great, those kids are getting married, I wish them happiness. Great, so and so is now called king or crown prince or whatever, and whoosee is now in direct succession to be called king someday, and all of that. Nice for them. Thing is, I'm a democrat (small d, not the party affiliation). Monarchs don't interest me much. Especially ceremonial ones. Get a job, you know?
We are also fascinated with the ritual of selecting a new pope. Another ceremonial monarch, though he is also really and truly the head of the Roman Catholic church. In practical terms, it's simply an election, although the winner is then anointed with an affected divinity. (That's one reason the retirement of Benedict is so awkward.) The cardinals assemble in strict secrecy and vote a bunch of times until one person -- generally, one of the cardinals, of course -- gets enough votes to win. "Habemus papam!" they declare and the winner shows up on a balcony wearing Hugo Ball's hat and what look like bedspreads and curtains to me. "Fratelle e sorelle! I iz da pope!"
Although I make fun, it is an ingenious spectacle. The secrecy of the proceedings is intriguing. And all the latest technology of live streaming and satellite broadcasting are focused on -- that chimney! People are actually opening a window on their browsers to look for white smoke (as opposed to black smoke, which means nobody has won yet).
And in the excitement and pleasure of this ancient ritual cum modern media spectacle, is there not also a bit of a smokescreen going on for this organization? I am not launching a critique of Catholicism here per se, at least I don't think so, but the institution itself.
One of the cardinals in the Sistine Chapel today is Cardinal Mahoney of Los Angeles, who was recently implicated (through church memos) of a damnable complicity in covering up and protecting priests who had repeatedly molested children. It appears he is protected from prosecution only by statute of limitations. In other words, the evidence was hidden long enough to protect him from legal repercussions. This is really outrageous. This is grounds for the tar and feathers. It is remarkable this man can even show his face in public.
Eventually, there will be white smoke and several days of gushing coverage about who the new pope is and what name he chooses and how many languages he can speak and so on. Again, I won't begrudge anyone their enjoyment of this show. It leaves me a little cold.
What interests me more is whether or not this institution will be held to account, once and for all, by itself or perhaps by the Hague, for its complicity in an international criminal conspiracy to aid, abet, and cover up the systematic rape and other abuse of children. It honestly amazes me that this is not at the very top of the news, every day.
If an actual state were behind this (which the Vatican sort of is, but not really anymore) there would be talk of international sanctions if not humanitarian intervention.
These tough words for the Vatican and the Roman Catholic church should not be interpreted as an attack on anyone's religious faith. This is about an institution. This human organization is culpable in very serious, even monstrous, errors of judgment with subsequent harm to a great many people. Whether it's a country, a corporation, or a church, this calls for accountability. And that is for everyone's sake, from a tiny chapel in Deming to the curia and even to the opulent palace where the "pilgrim" Benedict lives in seclusion -- and diplomatic immunity.