Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Papal Bull*

The first day of the Papal election season has finished without a result.
The black smoke emerged from the oven at the Sistine Chapel indicating that after a day of stirring ceremony, prayer, consultation and lobbying, no candidate could call a clear majority his own.  And so the amazing and intricate ritual around the 266th Papal Conclave will proceed for a while longer.  It is anticipated to be several more days whilst the winner and his faction marshal the votes.  Today I will look at the ritual and next time the politics of the Conclave.
What excites me about this Conclave, is the intensity of the pomp and ceremony and how that ritual both inspires believers yet mystifies and even repulses the godless.
For the Catholic believer, the ritual is full of non verbal signals to the every Catholic in the group – the largest religious grouping in the world. The costumes indicate power. The prayer indicates communion with the Almighty. The architecture speaks again of potency, a venerable history and a group capable of making buildings of great beauty. It is a moment when those within the Catholic Communion can happily cease to be rational and take in the symbolism as exciting.  It is an invitation to feel a sense of awe and, indeed, transcendence.  The ritual is literally awesome. 
Nothing embodies the non rational ritual as the smoke signal on the days election results.  Rather than doing something boring and prosaic like making an announcement, putting up a notice or even tweeting, the Conclave chooses something completely abnormal.  This can only enhance the extra-ordinariness of the Conclave. The ballot papers are burned and a chemical added to make the smoke black for a locked vote and white for a new Papacy.  This arcane ritual, so unnecessary, so kinky and so removed from the real world is a fantastic strategy. This rite announces to the world that this decision is so moving that we cannot even communicate with words. We are going to use the ballots, now suffused with holy “stuff” (regardless of their carbon footprint). It is a master stroke.  Usually observers struggle to see the colour of smoke. This ambiguity and suspense adds to the sense of the holy, the enigmatic and unreality of it all. If only the godless could invent rites of equivalent power.
Unfortunately I don’t get the symbols.  They impress me because more than anyone I know, I like a good ball gown, striking hats and a grand parade in sublime surrounds.  But because I am godless their power to persuade passes me by.  Accordingly I see the conclave as a bunch of sexually dysfunctional blokes in startling frocks playing with themselves.  They get to play in some of the best real estate in the world and so the whole conclave reeks of delusional decadence.  The delusion, for this unbeliever, seems to infect both the Cardinals in the Conclave and the millions of minions who are hanging on this decision.   In my more lucid moments, when I can stop fantasizing about wearing my own red frock, the whole thing is utterly insane.  But being objective, I do see how for those within the tent, the whole shindig is one of the great religious moments of the decade.  Grandeur works. Pomp and ceremony inspire.
So, just as the ritual strikes many godless as both an unnecessary expense coupled with self importance, the ritual has the opposite effect on the believers. It transforms a mere election into something other worldly.  The weirder the Conclave becomes the more it obtains authority.  This is something the godless need to appreciate and it is hard for us and we too often turn off our ability to have our brains suborned by theatrical ceremony. It’s a problem for us. But it isn't a problem for the Vatican. Like the British Royals, the Vatican's ceremony is so powerful it is trans-formative and a key to it longevity and resilience. 
What is your view?
Do you find the ceremony inspiring or ridiculous?
Given the abuse scandal, is it tactful to cross dress as the Cardinals almost seem to do?
Can the godless ever hope to have such an involving ceremony?
Can the ceremony be so powerful that it becomes a matter of substance when it is really merely form?
Over to you guys...

*A Papal bull is a particular form of papal document. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_bull


  1. - Do you find the ceremony inspiring or ridiculous?

    As with many traditions of significant tradition, I simply find it Quite Interesting. I guess if you look at it with the eyes of the outsider then it might appear ridiculous. But the process has an interesting history and though I wouldn't say you need to know, it can't hurt to have a look. I mean the current Lock in scenario didn't come about until the late 13th century. And they didn't break the ground on the Sistine Chapel for another 200 years.

    -Given the abuse scandal, is it tactful to cross dress as the Cardinals almost seem to do?

    Well, as I am pretty sure that most transvestites are not sexual abusers, I don't see the harm.

    -Can the godless ever hope to have such an involving ceremony?

    You can hope right now. Do we want one is an entirely different question. I am pretty sure I have expressed made my feelings about this in the past. But I am open to suggestions


    1. Yes ceremony is a godless strength that I have favoured in the past but is not necessarily an aspiration shared by other unbelievers.

  2. Nice to have the blog back Dickster - now down to business

    I find myself a little angry about the whole papal conclave business.

    This afternoon I watched Sunday's edition of Compass. The program focused mainly on the previous smoke puffing pontificate, and then what Catholics want from a new Pope this time around. I listened to various stories of autocratic behaviour by 'The Firm'. There was one chap who is affiliated with, The Australian, I think, who had an 'accept it or leave' attitude, but the majority of even the most devout, seemed less than happy with the church as it is now.

    This afternoon I also read the following on the Royal Commission into Child Sexual Abuse Facebook page.
    "Lawyers in LA have just settled 4 cases against the Catholic Church for $10million. Lawyers claimed that Cardinal Roger Mahony did not do enough to stop pedophile priest Michael Baker from molesting children. Baker raped around 20 children before he was jailed and defrocked. Cardinal Mahony is now in the Vatican to elect the new pope."

    Mahony was in the documentary Deliver Us From Evil. When questioned, regarding another prolific paedophile priest, he appeared to be evasive, cold and arrogant. He showed no compassion for the abused, his focus was on distancing himself and the church. That this man is a member of the frocked up fellows who will choose the next Pope, appals me and, in my eyes, makes a nonsense of the process.

    As for your questions -
    I find the ceremony neither inspiring nor ridiculous, more redundant.
    I believe atheism needs to focus on substance, not archaic pomp and circumstance.

    1. Thanks Miss Tricia. The sexual abuse scandal will continue to appall non Catholics for decades. I always wonder what lay Catholics are thinking to themselves? It has shown their organisation to be rotten to the core with no core values that could inspire: sexually stunted abusive priests who were so common that the Church developed routines in protecting them. It was cruel for the victims, is demoralising for the laity and lazy arrogance shown by the leadership. It won't go away quickly and neither should it. On the question of the archaic ritual, it was a brilliant strategy. The media have been consumed by it. I thought that the parade of costumes in St Peters was utterly fab. Call me superficial...
      The Dickster

  3. Martin C9:22 AM

    I do think they've rather missed a trick here in making it all secret. They should have the whole thing out in the open with television cameras on every nuance of every cardinal voting. The votes of each cardinal should be public, and telecast live, and with continuous play-by-play commentary. They could have Catholics (heck there's an ex-Pope available for the inside scoop) and non-Catholics commenting, and a ticker-tape of tweets along the bottom.

    You could have a Fantasy League where viewers try to predict which cardinals will swing their votes behind alternate prospects as the ebb and flow of popularity swings to or away from their most-desired candidate. See the anguish on a cardinal's face as he attempts to decide whether his own chances are a cooked goose, and whether it is time to throw his support behind an alternate candidate to "at least make sure that dickhead Pell doesn't get it!"

    And above all, betting. Betting, betting, betting. Constant live odds updates. Heck, get the Asian and Indian punters interested and a mere 5% Vatican rake-off could probably fund all the pedophilia cover-up court judgements from here on!

    1. The onion has coverage


  4. Well Martin from Maroubra, you have a point on the PR but the power of enigma is this. Secrets cause humans to crave details. I never get this in my own life as I am such a loud mouth. But the trick to attracting attention is to cleverly deploy mystery. We are all fascinated with the Papal Convocation because we have been excluded. It secrets beguile us. The trick to institutional power is to get the right balance between open ceremony and secret mens' business. On this level, there is much to learn from Catholicism.
    PS Great to see you on my little bloggy thingy. I appreciate it.

    1. Martin C7:23 AM

      Dick, sorry to be wildly off-topic but I've actually had a rather wild week. On Sunday in Portland Oregon the Symmys were held: an international ceremony to select the best palindromes of the year 2012, in four categories: Short, Long, Poem, and Word-Unit. The judging was done without knowledge of the authors of the palindromes, and was done by a judging panel of celebs like 'Weird Al' Yankovic, Will Shortz the New York Times crossword guru, comedian Demetri Martin, and John Flansburgh from the band They Might Be Giants.

      After all the hoopla, my palindromes won second prize in the Short category, equal first for Poem, and both First and Second for Long. The event got some publicity too: my name appeared in the New York Times, New York Daily News, Portland Examiner, Cyprus Today(?!), Sydney Morning Herald (Column 8) and a mention on Adam Spencer's 2BL 702 breakfast radio show. Then this morning Adam Spencer rang me and we discussed the Symmys and palindroming for five minutes on air.

      Symmys link, including recap press release: http://www.palindromist.org/symmys

      My prize-winners were:

      Short (second place):

      I made Rihanna hirsute, familiar, frail: I’m a fetus Rihanna hired, am I?

      Poem (equal winner):

      "Ten nosy men, enamor-free, never upstir
      Even satin opuses", says some gal
      Lips parted inside dire droops: award to her
      USA’s award: nuts, goddess, I know I shall!

      A wisp of UFO warding is all it sees
      Zones I rate got some medic I used on mode
      Robots sap some memos and see bees
      DNA some memos pass to boredom node.

      Suicide memos to get a risen Oz
      See, still a sign I draw of UFO psi
      Wallahs I won kissed dogs; tundra was
      A sure hot draw as poor derided I.

      Snide traps pillage mossy asses upon it
      As never its "pure veneer from an enemy" sonnet.

      Long (winner):

      Eric and Traci Discuss the Morality of Watching Cross-dressers

      "Traci, to regard nine men in drag," Eric (in a play or an ironic art spot) warned, "I am not so bad."

      "I'd never even seen knees ... never even did a Boston maiden raw," tops Traci, "nor in a royal panic. I regard nine men in drag - erotic art."

      Long (second place):

      Palindromic Conversation Between Annoying Little Kid and Dismissive Father Who Is Trying To Read A Newspaper

      Start now, eh?
      A war of eponymy?
      Never even a plus?
      Can a Celt sop an anaconda, Dad?
      Can an apostle can a consul, Pa?
      Even eponymy?
      For a war, even?
      He won't.

    2. Brilliant Martin, just brilliant. Congratulations.

  5. So Pope Francis eh? Another anti-gay bloke in the papal office.

    Why do the senior management of the RCC get about in scarlet robes with lace trim? What does that have to do with living the life Jesus asked people to live, if they wanted to follow him? That lace might look like a bit bit of curtaining from Spotlight's bargain bin, but I'm guessing it is expensive and hand made. But why? Doesn't such expensive garments totally contradict the teachings of Jesus?

    Jesus didn't get about in gold trimmed robes with snazzy hats (my favourite is the red one that looks like a tap handle) so why do these blokes? What has it got to do with serving god? Are people really so gullible that they need this pomp and circumstance to accept the illogical fallacy of god?

    1. From the photos that shroud this blog, I don't know if I am in a position to comment on the dress choices of anyone, especially someone like a Pope who is obliged by office make some pretty dramatic clothing choices. But Kate I take your criticism in the last para. It is weird.

    2. Hi Dick, sorry for the delayed reply, but I've been a bit sick (nasty cold and croup!) and haven't been able to think let alone construct a reply in over a week.

      I think there is an enormous difference between your individual style (and what style you have!) and religious blokes gadding about in expensive frocks when they have supposedly taken a vow of poverty - I don't see too many poor people getting about in the ensembles that the cardinals and the pope do.