I think I speak for everyone when I say WOW, WHAT A GREAT PAPAL CONCLAVE! No, that’s not your annual test for cervical cancer. It’s a gathering of Catholic cardinals who have just chosen the next Pope, Francis I of Argentina. And what a handsome empanada he is! If you’re a fan of Lord of the Rings, then you were as thrilled as I was to learn that there is still a group of old wizards in the world who can fix everything that’s wrong with you by having you recite magic spells they read from an ancient book. The Pope has fancy robes, grey hair, and a magic wand…he’s like Gandalf with bling!
You may, however, be sad to learn that the council of wizards has a somewhat checkered past. Of the 265 popes in history, surely many were decent and pious. But it’s important to note that many of the popes of the Middle Ages were among the greediest, cruelest, most vile human beings in history. They fought among themselves for power endlessly: In one example of papal pettiness, Pope Stephen VI had his dead predecessor’s corpse dug up, put on trial (they literally put the corpse in a chair and gave him a lawyer), found guilty, cut off three of his fingers, buried him in rags, then exhumed him once again and threw him in a river. They were greedy: Benedict XI sold his papacy to another guy for 1500 pounds of gold, came back a month later, took back the papacy, sold it again to his godfather, then took it back again and sold it a third time. They were perverse: John XII raped female pilgrims and stole church offerings, and was later beaten to death by the husband of a woman he was having an affair with. They were crooks: Leo X sold indulgences, so anybody could do anything as long as they paid him cash per sin. The list of bad popes goes on: many partook of prostitutes and booze, lavished themselves with material possessions, raided the church’s wealth and gave it to their families, and frequently had their enemies, and often fellow popes, murdered to further their own goals. They replenished the church funds by encouraging people to donate their land to the church when they died—at one point, the church owned one quarter of all the land in Europe (on top of the fact that they were taxing the peasants separately, and in addition to, the kings). And their monopoly on divine knowledge was so absolute, common people were not even allowed to read holy scripture for themselves. At one point, possession of a Bible by non-priests was punishable by death. Popes were burning Christians at the stake…for reading the Bible. Not cool, grand wizards, not cool. But surely that’s the worst of it, right?
Nope! Turns out popes authorized this other thing: Torture. The church certainly didn’t invent torture, but man, did they perfect it. During the Inquisition, where tribunals of bishops would force suspected heretics to confess, any number of delightful mechanical devices were used to illicit confessions or punish sinners. People were stretched, sliced, impaled; eyes and limbs were cut off; people were burned alive; guys were castrated, gals had their breasts ripped off. Women convicted of adultery were subjected to “The Pear,” whereby a stretching device was inserted into the…you know, let’s just not get into it.
And this was all when the Popes were in a good mood. When they were in a bad mood, they made everyone go to the Jerusalem and fight in holy wars known as the Crusades. Fortunately, these horrible wars lasted for a mere 200 years, and cost only 3,000,000 Christian and Muslim lives. Kinda makes Mt. Doom look like Legoland.
I know what you’re thinking…these medieval church wizards sure sound like a-holes. Well, thankfully, the Middle Ages are over. Life in the western world is considerably better for us simple folk, who have traded the miseries of toiling in the field for the luxuries of iPhones and Big Macs. We’ve also traded brutal, opulent kings for democratically elected leaders who we can remove from office whenever we wish. And we’ve traded our unelected, magic-wand wielding Popes for—oops, no, my mistake! Still got’em. Of course, they’ve mellowed out quite a bit. The only torture they inflict is with their boring Latin sermons, and they haven’t stolen any money from me except the ten bucks I spent on that second Da Vinci Code movie.
Still, modern Popes tend to cling to the trappings of power. The fancy throne, the jewel-encrusted mitres, and outfits that Lady Gaga thinks are “a little over the top.” There’s also the glimmering wizard city, Oz The Vatican, and its army of cooks, maids, and servants, the Papal apartment, and its own police force, and even standing army, under the Pope’s command. Plus the billions of dollars worth of property, land, and rare art, all of which is tax free, since technically it’s for God, who apparently treats Earth like his own private Swiss bank account. If this opulence bothers you, it should, since it’s all paid for by the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics, most of whom are of modest means in poor countries like Brazil, or Mexico, or the Philippines, and can ill afford to be donating 10% of their meager wealth to build more big, fancy wizard temples.
And say what you will about Dark Lord Sauron…he never diddled any altar boys. It is estimated that at any time, 50% of priests are not upholding their vow of celibacy, and at least 6% are engaged in full-on pedophilia. Just this week, Cardinal Mahony, former head of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, settled a lawsuit for millions with four boys molested by a priest…a priest who confessed his crimes to Mahony, who then sent him to a church-run pedophilia rehab in Arizona. Six months later, he was brought back to work at a different parish, where he—surprise!—molested many more boys before eventually being caught by actual, non-wizard authorities, who sent him to jail. Mahony even went so far as to request the pedophile priest not talk about his crimes with others, as it could incriminate the church. When informed that the priest had been specifically instructed to avoid talking about his sickness even with his therapist, Cardinal Mahony responded with a handwritten note: “Sounds good—please proceed!!” You can tell by the two, count’em two exclamation points that Mahony thought this was a great idea. Certainly this particular cardinal has been cast into exile?
Nope! Cardinal Mahony was one of the 115 moral luminaries inside the Sistine Chapel, partaking in the closed-door pajama party to pick the new president of MagicTown.
Look, I still love wizards. I do. But Francis has a tough job ahead of him. And I don’t just mean convincing people that a guy who died 2000 years ago lives in the clouds and gets angry when teenagers masturbate. The new Pope’s biggest task is going to be convincing a world that now has the luxuries of science and democracy that a council of wizards is still necessary and helpful to society. Personally, I’m down with praying to tiny statues of virgin goddesses, and eating magical wafers, and pledging my unquestioned allegiance to the angry Sky God. It’s a small price I pay to not get sent to an underground fire jail after I die.
So good luck, new head Wizard! Your predecessors include thieves, murderers, torturers, and warmongers. I didn’t think modern popes could beat that, but I’ll be damned if the last guy covering up for child rapists didn’t take the cake! Those are some big wizard robes to fill, Francis. I’m sure you won’t let us down.
UPDATE 3/28/13: Pope Francis has refused to live in the lavish papal apartment, and is emulating Jesus by washing and kissing the feet of young convicts, including non-Catholics, and even Muslims. It’s a good start! Maybe he reads Blunt Monkey…?
UPDATE 7/16/13: Francis continues to bitch-slap papal opulence in the face, ditching the fancy golden throne for a wooden one, as well as wearing humbler robes and using an iron scepter instead of the diamond encrusted pimp cane used by his predeccesor. And he is even downgrading the papal car to a modest Ford Focus, although this is a catch-22 because while I was pleased to learn he was saving money on the vehicle, I was disappointed to learn that lavish prick Pope Benedict had been scooting around in a Mercedes, BMW X5, and a custom built Renault, among others.