Pope Watch 2013

“I adore thee Mother Mary, but would you change me back to a Witch?” –Richard Shindell (from the song “On A Sea of Fleur-De-Lis”)

That line pretty much sums up my feelings about “Pope Watch 2013.” I love the pomp and circumstance of the the Catholic Church on occasion, and never more so then when a new Pope is being installed. There’s something about the crowd, which feels less like a gathering of the faithful and more like a bunch of punters at a (European) football match, and the beauty of St. Peter’s Square, especially at night. When my “Pope Alarm” went off yesterday I hurried to the TV to take in the spectacle, and sat there for the next hour in a bit of awe. I have no desire to attend mass anytime ever, but as a person with a huge interest in religion as a whole, it’s fun to watch other faiths now and again.

The crowning of a new Pope is a spectacle made for television. It gives talking heads a chance to feel good about themselves, and plays to the emotional notes that audiences love-the mix of tradition and “the new.” There’s also the anticipation, which goes hand in hand with the speculation, and then a roaring climax when the new Pope presents himself (though this year there might have been more befuddlement than shouts of approval). Credit to the Vatican too for keeping the new Pope’s identity a secret during that long hour from white smoke to presentation. There’s no other ceremony, religious or otherwise, like the installation of a new Pontiff.

Since I’m a Facebook addict I shared my thoughts on the process with my two dozen online friends. Even some of my most rabid “anti-Christian” friends were watching St. Peter’s Square, or at least seemed curious about who the next Pope might be. One of my friends commented though “why does it matter?” That’s a good question for Pagans to ask, and the simple answer is that “yes, it does matter.” For better or for worse there are still over a billion Catholics; it’s the largest religious body in the world. There are more Muslims than Catholics, but not all of those Muslims acknowledge one person as the leader of their faith. There’s a reason Presidents visit with Popes, those guys in the pointy hats wield a great deal of power and influence.

You don’t necessarily have to live near someone (whether figuratively or literally) for them to have influence in your life. I keep up with European elections because whoever the Prime Minister of England is does effect me. During the 2012 Presidential Election there were a whole lot of folks outside of the United States paying attention for the same reason. Who the next Pope is affects me directly because it directly affects many of my friends, family, and neighbors.

While I enjoy the pageantry of the Papal Conclave, I have a lot of dislike for the fallout. Christianity is one of those areas that journalists turn a blind-eye to in regards to fact-checking. There’s never any reason to use the word “allegedly” when referring to myths, if the Catholic Church says it’s true it must be. Over on The Daily Beast readers were expected to accept as true a story so suspect that it didn’t even end up in the New Testament:

“There are no rules about these things, really, except that selecting “Peter” is a no-no—Catholics informally retired the name when St. Peter died back in A.D. 67.”

Since Catholics didn’t even exist in the year 67, and there’s even some debate on the use of the term “Christian” that early, it’s hard to say that Catholics retired the name Peter way back then. Scholars will also tell you that we don’t know the date of Peter’s death, such numbers are “tradition” but they don’t come from any informed place. I know that the Catholic Church gets a pass from many outlets on “Pope Day” but if you are going to accept Christian myth as literal truth please do the same with Orpheus.

The Catholic Church getting a pass on real history bugs me, but so does the other side of the equation. There’s a sensationalism attached to electing a new Pope from haters (if not haters, at least “non-fans”) that often feels a bit over the top. As soon as Francis I was elected the Huffington Post was happy to dredge up an old story linking the new Pope to a kidnapping back in 1976. Past the headline of “Pope Francis Kidnapping Controversy” at the end of the story there’s a bit from the AP mentioning the “extraordinary, behind-the-scenes action(s)” from then Priest Bergoglio (now Francis I), but who is going to get that far? I guess the headline of “Former Pope May or May Not Have Been Involved in Kidnapping And/Or Freeing of Kidnappees” doesn’t result in page views.

The left was also sure to share a bunch of “New Pope is Another Homophobe” type stories, but what did anyone expect? He’s a 76 year (now) former Bishop. You don’t rise to such positions of power in the Catholic Church by being a rogue priest. That shouldn’t have surprised anyone. It’s certainly disappointing that there are still people out there against gay adoption and gay marriage, but I’m hopeful that there’s more to this new Pope than homophobia. There are positive stories about the man out there. Apparently he’s a humble guy and has visited AIDS patients in hospice. He’s also spoken out against income inequality and has long been a champion of the poor. Perhaps the Catholic Church has gotten lucky and Francis I will focus on those things along with getting rid of pedophile priests and making amends for the horrible things that have gone on in his Church. My Catholic friends, and even one of my Pagan ones who works at a Catholic institution, have told me that this guy being a Jesuit is a “good thing,” let’s hope so.

The Catholic Church has done a lot of wrong over the past 1700 years (attention journalists, it’s not a 2000 year old institution), but instead of just assuming the worst I’m going to wish for the best. My gods don’t live at the Sistine Chapel, and I’m willing to bet that they’ve never even visited, but if Francis I does choose to focus on the things that will make this world better instead of divide us even more, I might end up a fan; and now that Pope Watch 2013 is over it’s time to go back to being a Witch.

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