The inconvenient lessons of papal history

Pope Gregory XVI declared in 1832 that freedom of the press was 'heretical vomit'

Share

The question no one seems willing to ask is why the cardinals picked someone so old. It's hardly worth their while going home as they'll all be back again in a few weeks to pick the next one. Maybe if they keep popping back every few months they get a cheap deal with the hotel.

The question no one seems willing to ask is why the cardinals picked someone so old. It's hardly worth their while going home as they'll all be back again in a few weeks to pick the next one. Maybe if they keep popping back every few months they get a cheap deal with the hotel.

One spokesman for the Catholic Church, replying to someone who suggested the new Pope's attitudes were a tad medieval, said, "What we do know is he's a man of holiness and prayer." It's just as well they picked him then. It would have been embarrassing if they'd sent him out to do mass and he'd said "I've never really seen the point in praying. Anyway, I don't do Sunday mornings 'cos that's my day for playing snooker."

Supporters of the new pontiff insist his aim is to preserve "eternal truths" handed down from Jesus, guidance that can't be compromised by changes in human society. For example, there can be no reversal of the ban on celibacy for priests. Except that this rule wasn't introduced until the 11th century, so for the first thousand years of the church the heathen bastards were ignoring their traditional values, until they got a grip and invented them. Even the first Pope, Saint Peter himself, was married. So hopefully the new Pope Benedict will atone for that by having St Peter's Square hosed down every day with holy water, dirty filthy sinful concourse that it is.

Then there's the tradition introduced by Pope John XXII. Various movements had been set up in opposition to the church hierarchy, which had become grotesquely and publicly decadent. The new churches insisted the priesthood should live humble lives among the poor, in accordance with the methods of Jesus. So the Pope declared it was heresy to suggest Jesus was poor. Sermons under his rule must have been brilliant. "Jesus looked upon the famished thousands and sayeth unto them, 'Fear not for thou shall be fed'. Then he rang Fortnum & Mason and ordered two van-loads of loaves and fishes. 'Sticketh it on the American Express card,' he sayeth."

Or there were two members of the Borgia family that made it to Pope. Leonardo da Vinci worked for one of them, but became concerned when, as his colleague wrote, "All Rome was trembling. Each day there are at least four murders." Eventually Leonardo fled when the Pope had his best friend strangled. I wonder how the Vatican squared that with "Thou Shalt Not Kill". They must have answered it like a politician - "Look, at the time that commandment was written we had no intention of killing. But then it became clear that, in order to fulfil our other commitments, and recover from the mess left by the previous government, there would have to be a small rise in strangling. And if you read the whole of that original tablet of stone you'll find Moses did actually make provision for modest levels of garrotting."

Perhaps the ceaseless tradition the new Pope will adhere to includes the doctrine of Pope Gregory XVI, who declared in 1832 that democracy was sinful, and freedom of the press was "heretical vomit". And decreed that any Jew who insulted Catholicism should be killed. Or maybe the rules of Pope Urban II, who had priests' wives sold into slavery.

Then there was the vilification of science, the persecution of Galileo and attitudes that led Isaac Newton to believe the Pope was the anti-Christ. All these rules were based on eternal principles. So if the new Pope's going to stick to papal traditions, he could manage to be the one person in history of whom it could be said as a child he was in the Hitler Youth, but once he grew up he went further to the right.

The Catholic Church has proved ingenious at adapting its eternal truths, finally giving in to the real world but not until it's succeeded in holding back social advancement for three or four centuries. Just as eventually they'll have to come to terms with divorce, women priests and condoms. It seems the one thing that never changes is their involvement in child abuse. It must be worth them formalising this by writing it into a canonical doctrine, so a priest comes out and reads" "Kiddius fiddlus our little secretum," and makes the sign of the cross.

No other institution could get away with revering such a record, or of choosing its leader in such an archaic manner. Couldn't they be prosecuted under an equal opportunities act for advertising a job to Catholics only? Surely there must be Jews, Muslims and atheists capable of doing the work. And there's the health and safety issue of what would happen if there was a real fire in the Vatican while the cardinals were choosing the Pope. They'd all be screaming for help, but the crowd outside would be cheering the smoke and trying to interpret its colour.

But this Pope could settle the social debate about what is natural, as ordained by God. Take a new born baby, isolate it from all human, and therefore sinful contact, and as it grows up, see what comes naturally to it first - transubstantiation or tossing itself off.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum