How Many Divisions Does The Pope Have, Joseph Stalin Once Asked. The Answer Was: You’ll Find This Out In The Next Life
Mario Di Paolo writes from Rome: Pope Benedict XVI has decided that he must go. Says he’s too frail. Having announced to a meeting of his Cardinals that he will step down at the end of this month, the Holy Father was helped from his throne by two acolytes, as if there were no power in him anymore.
Immediately the political classes had to say something.
Mario Monti, the unelected Italian Prime Minister, said he was ‘greatly shaken’. Not stirred then.
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel said of her fellow German that his decision had her ‘utmost respect’. ‘He is one of the most significant religious thinkers of our time,’ she added. Probably trailing behind her friends Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy of the church of the European Union.
The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that Pope Benedict ‘will be missed as a spiritual leader to millions’. That came from a politician who had just forced a bill through the British parliament defying the core belief of his very own Anglican Church and, most certainly, the sentiment preached by the Pope – to make gay marriage an OK thing.
Maybe the guy who got it right amid all the political sanctimony was the presidential spokesman in the Philippines, Edwin Lacierda, who said: ‘May he find respite from his physical challenges and contentment in the seclusion of retirement.’
When Joseph Stalin inquired once, sarcastically, about the number of divisions the then Pope had, in response to the Vatican’s declaration that the Soviet leadership should stop the persecution of Catholics, he got a swift reply that he, Stalin, would find out in the next life.
Still, the underlining point that Stalin was making boiled down to his conviction that although the Pope was one of the most recognizable figures in the world, he didn’t have any of the real power that the gun gives people. Yet, with all the deserved criticism of the Roman Catholic Church you can’t really deny the fact that the Holy Father is the spiritual shepherd of the flock which numbers more than one seventh of the people in this world. And as the political leaders sent their divisions into other countries, Pope Benedict XVI and his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, counselled caution and humility.
When the born again Christian George W. Bush and his preaching sidekick Tony Blair ignored the truth and the wishes of millions of their own congregations and went into Iraq and then Afghanistan, like some unholy band of text spouting redneck crusaders, the Vatican stood its ground and said it was wrong. Equally, under Pope Benedict and his Cardinals before him, the Church chose to ignore or cover up the most bestial crimes of their parish priests who had jangled the genitalia of young boys and even entered their anuses.
And yet the politicians are right when they mouth the spiritual recognition of more than a billion followers.
If Christianity is the ‘opiate of the masses’ then the need cannot be denied. The sanctimonious vote hungry legislators, who struggle with power and its relationship with the profound commandments that had been given to Moses, have an understanding that what they offer is mostly held in contempt by the very electorate who rely on them to keep them from economic and military harm’s way.
Pope Benedict XVI could present but one core belief : that he was no different from those who came before him and is no different from those who follow. Yet, no other religious leader in the whole world could cause such global reaction as would the going – by whatever way – of a Pope of the Church of Rome.
Whatever we like to think, even when a Pope’s name is unknown, his image is instantly recognized world-wide. No divisions? An opiate and little more? The prompter of political banality? The uncompromising, cruel some would say, denouncer of modern social norms such as homosexuality, divorce and contraception? Yes, all of these things. But look at the public reaction to nothing more than a 85-year-old man saying he’s going to retire. Even allowing for the over-reaction of the media, there is hardly another peaceful event like the resignation of the Holy Father which could cause such excitement around the world.