You may have heard this story recently.
It begins with a man who drops out of the sky into a mysterious land. There he meets some oddly dressed folks who escort him into a wondrous city where, to his astonishment, everyone wants to serve him. Of course, nothing comes easy and behind all the wealth and privilege there are some serious problems. The kingdom, you see, is falling apart and the people are looking to him and his power to set things right again.
So which is it, Emerald City or Vatican City? Wizard or Pope?
I could argue that there is really not much of a difference between the two.
They both arrive into their respective worlds from far-away places. Each, we are told, is destined to take the place of a predecessor who has unexpectedly left the throne. Both men are said to wield great power; one as a great oracle and sorcerer, and the other as God’s representative on Earth.
And each is, in his own way, a fraud.
I intend no insult. I have nothing against this newly minted Pope Francis and I am sure that he is a very devout man of only the best intentions. In fact, his record of playing well with other religious groups gives me some small amount of hope for the near future of global interfaith.
The reality though, is that he is also a 76-year-old place-holder.
There was clearly less “divine guidance” in the selection of this pope then there was concern with what could be termed: finding the right CEO to please the stock-holders of a troubled corporation. The various credentials of his long career give him a certain appeal to both progressive Western Catholics who supply the church with most of it’s money and the more conservative 3rd-world congregations that supply most of it’s population and incoming priests.
Barring any surprises, he seems inoffensive enough to buy the groaning church bureaucracy a little more time before, cornered by the twin specters of corruption and fossilized dogma, it is forced into either doctrinal schism or cultural irrelevancy.
The reality is that the Pope, like a certain fictional charlatan from Kansas, has no real power of his own. He cannot wave his hand and banish the crisis of faith caused by his church systematically enabling the sexual predators which have for years moved within it’s ranks. Yet, with a well publicized outreach to the poor, he may draw attention away from those abuses just long enough to slow the tide of those leaving the Church for greener pastures.
Misdirection is the most powerful tool in any stage magicians kit.
Growing up, my family was Catholic (if not terribly devout) and although I never really fit properly within that religious tradition, I still have a certain nostalgic interest in what happens with the Church. I wish only the best for this new Pontiff and for those who continue to call the Roman Catholic Church their home.
The mystery and pomp of a Papal Election along with a friendly new face under the miter certainly make for some pretty distracting spectacle. Eventually though, the smoke and mirrors of illusion will give way to harsh reality, and one has to wonder if the conclave didn’t choose to elevate a 76 year-old man with one lung for exactly that reason.
How long will it be before someone starts counting the days, waiting for the inevitable sequel?