Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Holy See No Evil

...that strange third sex which the Roman church creates by training
men up from boyhood in a world that is not the world of men.*

Despite his formation in the highly disciplined and task-oriented Hitler Youth, it appears that Joseph Ratzinger, the current pope of Rome, is not exactly a no-nonsense executive.
Not just recently, thousands of priests have been diddling--and worse--tens of thousands of little kids just about everywhere in Christendom. Ratzinger was a bishop, then cardinal in Germany where some of this was happening. Before taking the throne, he headed the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which until 1908 was known as the Office of the Inquisition.
While holding that post made notorious by Torquemada, his inquiries were mostly about matters of doctrine rather than evidences of defilement. Or so goes the “petty gossip.” When he did occasionally summon a cleric to whatever serves nowadays as a star chamber, it was on suspicion of being less than medieval in his politics rather than being less than mature in his proclivities.
Perhaps blinded by the incense or deafened by the choir, Ratzinger somehow didn’t notice this recrudescence of one of the more egregious corruptions that have shamed Rome at least since Pope Alexander VI made cardinals of the sons borne him by Lucretia, his adolescent daughter. Though church documents evidence otherwise, the Vatican's flacks tell us that the current pope never read the memos, never was briefed by his underlings, never noticed the morose altar boys at mass. He was just another bystander, like the fedeli in Piazza San Pietro at Wednesday audiences.
Whatever his problems at the office, Benedict XVI has been lucky compared to some of his namesakes. Benedicts IV and VI were murdered, the latter strangled on the contract of the antipope Bonifice VII. Benedict V had his staff of office broken over his head by his predecessor, Leo VIII. Benedict IX was deposed and excommunicated for simony. Benedict XII, a notorious torturer, made plans to launch yet another Crusade to the Holy Land. But these were thwarted by the outbreak of Europe's Hundred Years War.
Some are arguing that celibacy is at the heart's of the church's problem with pedophiliac priests. You can pin that on Benedict VIII. It was he who forbid marriage by wearers of the cloth. It was no matter of spirituality but simple economics. Clerics were leaving church property to their offspring, thus reducing Rome's real estate portfolio.
Goaded by the Reformation and the Risorgimento, the church has cleaned up its act since those days. Indeed, it ran a very tight ship for a while. Until 1870, or just two lifetimes ago, the vicar of Rome ruled politically as well as spiritually over the Papal States, nowadays the Italian provinces of Umbria, Le Marche and Emilia-Romagna. The pope would still be governing those regions had not newly united Italy invaded them, defeated the papal army, and eventually reduced the church’s territorial dominion to the 108 acres of Vatican City in Rome across the Tiber. As compared to the Holy See’s current lackadaisical attitude towards the sins of its servants, it was far more severe with recalcitrants back when it exercised formal police power.
Let me leave you with an extended quote from the great Trevelyan on the church’s use of this power, particularly under the reign of Pope Gregory XVI, when the Holy See saw everything and acted with alacrity.

Anyone supposed to belong to the dangerous class of ‘thinkers’ was shadowed by the police, even if he had nothing to do with politics. The same vague distrust of everything not medieval led Gregory XVI to prohibit the intrusion of railways and telegraphs into his dominions.
The press was under rigorous censorship, which included most books and newspapers of any importance...
The life, freedom and property of no one who was not a friend to the government had any real security in the Papal States. Long lists of suspects were handed about between the officers spiritual and temporal, whose functions overlapped in the most amazing ways. The houses of suspects were perpetually being searched, and their daily goings out and in were watched and reported. If evidence was lacking, cardinals did not stick at ordering trivial circumstances to be tortured into proof, and certainly lower officials had small scruple in obeying the spirit of their instructions.
Strange commands were issued to the citizens of their church-state, sometimes to individuals, or sometimes to thousands at a time; as, for example, that they should keep within doors between sunset and sunrise, or not go out at night without a lantern; that they should, under compulsion, ‘perform their spiritual exercises for three days in a convent chosen by the bishop,’ or confess once a month before an approved confessor. Cruel punishments were exacted for neglect. The situation of a ‘thinker’ driven into the confessional by the police must have had piquancy...

Throughout the Papal States fines were imposed, inns and cafes closed, civil rights withdrawn at the whim of the officials...Worst of all, any man was liable--and liable almost in proportion to his public spirit and desire to improve the lot of his fellows--to see the inside of the secret cells at Pesaro, or the fortress which rises on the grim rock of San Leo in the heart of the wildest Appenines. In times when the government was especially alarmed, the forms of civilized justice were laid aside, as when in 1821, many hundreds of men and women were imprisoned or banished without trial and without accusation; as when in 1824 and 1844, Special Commissions were established, presided over by persons of the worst character, who judged with an indifference to all rules of law, and punished with a ferocity that shocked even the Europe of that day. Tied up by ropes to the walls of filthy prisons, or to the “galleys” of Civitavecchia, or more mercifully executed by gibbeting or shooting in the back, the Pope’s enemies perished and were forgotten.” *

* Garibaldi’s Defense of the Roman Republic 1848-9 by George Macaulay Trevelyan, 1907.