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Clowning in Rome?*

Best tweet of the day so far may belong to David Freddoso, who says “BREAKING SEQUESTER NEWS ** DUE TO BUDGET CUTS, THERE IS NO POPE ANYMORE — YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN, PEOPLE **.”  Heh.

More seriously, since we wrote here a couple of weeks ago about the theological studliness (that’s a technical term right out of the Catechism, isn’t it?) of Pope Benedict, there has been a media frenzy about whether a secret report about Vatican corruption is linked to Benedict’s decision to step down—or perhaps even that he was forced out.  I’m sure Bob Woodward can sort this out for us, and that the rest of the media will accept his findings unquestioningly, as they always do.

In the meantime, somewhere in the cobwebs of my mind the old saying about “life imitating art” comes along, recalling dimly the 1981 Morris West novel The Clowns of God.  The plot revolved around a Pope who claimed to have received a direct revelation from God concerning the imminence of the ends times and the Second Coming of Jesus.  Can’t have that around the Vatican, so the hierarchy forces Pope Gregory XVII to resign, after which the former Pope goes on a private quest to prepare to meet the arrival of Jesus. Cold War tensions provide the context for the novel and the plausible basis for thinking the End Times were upon us (how original was that?), but one wonders whether the Catholic Church might be on the cusp of another Reformation-like challenge if the rumors of rampant corruption are even a little bit true.  Certainly the church hierarchy’s bureaucratic behavior in the clergy sex abuse scandals was less than reassuring.

Morris West died in 1999; if he were still with us he might have to rewrite The Clowns of God to reflect that what challenges the church most is not world-historical trends like nuclear weapons and the Cold War, but the basic frailty of all human institutions.

*P.S. Yes, in case you’re wondering, the headline for this post is indeed an obscure reference to the Henry Nouwen classic of contemplation, Clowning in Rome.

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