Francis turned down the traditional papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace – which was lavishly redecorated for Pope Benedict – and chose instead to live in a two-room apartment in the Vatican guesthouse. Where his predecessor wore ostentatious robes and jewelry, Francis wears only plain. He has criticised the church’s previously narrow focus on issues like abortion and contraception, instead turning his focus to the evils of the “cult of money” and economic inequality around the world.
He is taking the Catholic Church in an entirely different direction, and for this he has been named by Time magazine’s Person of the Year.
The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church makes clear that Pope speaks with the assistance of the Holy Spirit. In short, the Pope has a hot line with God and undertakes his bidding. What interests me, then, is how quickly God changes tack.
One minute God wants it done like this, nek minute he wants it done like that. Obviously this isn’t without precedent, the God in the Old Testament is scarcely recognisable from that in the New Testament. Testament to the fact that we can all have a change of heart, I suppose. But why does it require a new Pope for the church to change, why didn’t God just wire the old Pope and say, ‘I’ve changed my mind on a few matters’?
It’s enough to lead me to believe that the Pope is not in a privileged position when it comes to God. Not just because the notion is patently absurd, but also because of some interesting quirks of history I found here.
While God may have been concerned with people coveting their neighbour's ox (Commandment 10) he seemed less concerned with other sins of his representatives on earth.
Sergius III (897-911), for example, murdered another pope and with further less than advisable discretion fathered an illegitimate son (who later became pope). But he was certainly usurped in the fun department by Alexander VI (1492 to 1503) who had a greater sense of occasion, throwing enormous sex parties at the end of which small naked boys would emerge from large cakes.
While Alexander also had a incestuous relationship, he was more concerned with sexual consent than John XII (955 to 964) was, who had his forceful way with female pilgrims in St. Peter's, stole church offerings, made toasts to the devil and invoked pagan gods all the while playing dice. Everyone loves a gamble.
Pope Steven VI (896-897), however, was less forgiving of sin. He put his predecessor Pope Formosus on trial, which isn’t so bad but for the fact his predecessor was dead. Steven exhumed Formosus’s rotting corpse and put him on trial for a number of crimes. Unable to mount even a skerrick of a credible defence, Formosus was found guilty leaving the new pope presumably little choice but to remove three of the dead man’s fingers, dress him as a layman, bury him, exhume him and throw him in the Tiber river.
God works in mysterious ways.
The new Pope (and apparently God’s thinking) clearly compares well to some of his predecessors (or thoughts), and he seems to be a pretty damn good man with priorities that we should admire. So while he is trying to make the lives of the poor better then we should all embrace him. But only, and I mean only, in the same way we embrace Santa Claus.