Jan Lois Condorez writes from The Vatican: I do like a bling church. This past weekend was very, very bling church. Pope Benedict XVI, who of course had bling thrust upon him, appointed six new cardinals.
My very good friend Per Mario is a mite upset that they do not have Italian accents, but he gossips away to them in Latin so what’s the difference other than the Latin for Fiat does not mean ‘does my cinquecento look big in this’ but ‘let it be done’.
Per Mario giggles esattamente, gives me a cuddle and rolls his eyes that it’s all very well wanting to make the Church more non-European (he actually means non-Italian) but do we really need another cardinal from the Philippines, another from the United States (although he, Archbishop James Harvey is a prefect of the papal household), Colombia, Nigeria, Lebanon and India.
That’s what the Holy See has done this weekend. Six new scarlet hatters and not one says prego. He wants everyone to understand that the Church of Rome is international.
Now Mario says that maybe Pope Benedict thinks it’s not clear to the world what the Church is. He told everyone in St Peter’s that the Church belongs to the human race. I can think of a couple of Islamists who might not get the message. May even find it insulting. Some might find it provocative. Well, that won’t hurt anyone – although with a bit of planning it might.
But Pope Benedict has a point. Fewer than a quarter of Catholics live in Europe and three of the six new cardinals (India, Lebanon and Nigeria) are from countries with very large Muslim populations. Moreover, Catholics in India and the Middle East are constantly being attacked and so the red vestments of their office is a reminder that the cardinals are expected to be ready to spill their blood for the Church. It is not a rare act of faith that they do so even at the highest level and most will remember the assassination in 1980 of the Archbishop of San Salvador Oscar Romero largely because he continued to denounce the authorities for persecuting Catholics who worked for the poor.
The authorities even sent gunmen to kill mourners at his funeral at the Catedral Metropolitana de San Salvador on 30 March 1980.
The Church has strong memories and while the Vatican says the Church is for everyone in the world, the real message at last is more along the lines that the Church will go wherever it is needed. Catholics declare they believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church. The Pope today reminded people who will listen, that by that statement the Catholic Church reflects that about one seventh of the world are followers of Rome.
The downside of that spectacular statistic is the fact that Catholics can be as lapsed as any other Christian.
Moreover, they are battered by stories of clerical misdemeanours past and present, opportunistic whistle blowing from supposedly loyal servants in the Pope’s own household and even inconsequential debates about celibacy and falling numbers of ordinands – less than a dozen last year for example in that very Catholic Ireland.
So will the beautifully shod and clad six new boys make a difference or will they simply join the privilege of the Church holy of holies and toe whatever the line is every month?
There are today 120 cardinals. Each, should he live so long, has the right to vote for the next Pope. When that time comes, the Church will have to define itself as it has not done since the 1960s. How that turns out could, or so Per Mario whispers, mean that one of the six has been chosen in Benedict’s mind as his successor. Could that surely be?
Yes, of course. Was not he, as Cardinal Ratzinger, the chosen one to succeed to the little Easter balcony? If only the miserable and all-things-to-all-men Church of England were so far-seeing.