Saturday, March 2, 2013

When Popes Retire

Those of us in or near retirement know we make a lot of adjustments when we quit our day jobs. Imagine what it must be like for a pope. I’ve been looking into the changes Pope Benedict XVI will be facing now that he’s stepped down from the papacy.

His main title will be Pope Emeritus, which is a bit of a mouthful, so I propose we adopt the system that the media use to shorten names of celebrities. Let’s refer to him as Po-Em, which has the added appeal of having a lyrical quality.

He’ll still get to wear his white cassock, but he can’t wear those red shoes anymore. This would kill me. My husband’s wedding vows included a promise to start a company that made nothing but red shoes. Worse yet for the Po-Em, he won’t even get to wear black shoes. He’ll be wearing brown loafers. And not Italian loafers; ones made in Mexico. No word on what Gucci thinks about this sacrilege.

My secret source says the reason for giving up the red shoes is that there’s only one pair of them, so they have to be handed over to the new Pope. A consequence of this is that a little known criteria for papal eligibility is being able to wear a man’s size 10½ shoe. Keep an eye out for a flash of color under the Po-Em’s white cassock. I’m told he’ll be wearing red socks, since the rules say nothing about his hosiery.

He’ll also have to part with his fisherman’s signet ring, which will be destroyed with a silver hammer to prevent it from being used to authenticate documents. Just in case he changes his mind about those red shoes and decides to sign something as Pope again. Or some scoundrel (like his former butler) decides to do that for him.

The Po-Em will be living in Mater Ecclesiae, the small convent at the Vatican, where his quarters are being redone to accommodate the arrival of his copious library (which he gets to take with him). I don’t know about you, but when I think of convents or monasteries and libraries, I think of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. It doesn’t leave me feeling all warm and fuzzy.

Another personal item the Po-Em gets to keep is his piano. I didn’t even know he played the piano, but apparently, he’s quite talented. There are several clips of him on YouTube, including one playing jazz. I fully expect to read about him riffing in his quarters with Yo-Yo Ma and Itzhak Perlman, or having duets with Condoleeza Rice (Sec-State-Em), giving new meaning to the phrase “chamber music.”

As for what he’ll be doing in retirement (other than playing piano and reading), I’m told the Po-Em will be praying, studying and working on his book that is “almost finished.” (Where have we heard that before?) He’ll be free to move about, but he’s said he plans to live “hidden from the world.” Perhaps he’ll embark on a virtual book tour. I can see the HuffPo blurb: Po-Em reading on YouTube gets 1 million hits first hour.

Some of the juicier material has to do with personnel who surround the Po-Em. He’ll “continue to live with the four consecrated women who served him… while he was Pope.” (Thank you, for this tasteful reportage.) These Memores Domini are not exactly the 72 Apsaras promised to devout Muslims after they die, but we can be pretty certain they’re all virgins. And the Po-Em doesn’t need to die to be “served” by them. Whatever that means.

One of the more interesting tidbits I uncovered about personnel is that his private secretary will stay on to serve the new pope, but he’ll live in the convent with the Po-Em. Talk about an unholy trinity. You just know that whenever the new Pope meets with his Priv-Sec, there’ll be an elephant in the room. Perfect fodder for another Eco best seller!

To those who think this post is in poor taste, mea culpa and lo siento. At least I’m not handicapping the “race” for pope (see the “Sweet Sistine” March Madness on Add to that the recent elections for the Italian parliament, and I sound positively refined. Former comedian Beppe Grillo and his Five Star Government party (the Grillinos) made an unexpectedly strong showing.

So now Italy will have a clown in the government and a pachyderm in the Vatican. That country is becoming one monstrous circus. Come to think of it, this sounds more like a Fellini movie than an Eco novel. On that note, I’m digging out my feathered parade hat and opening a nice bottle of Chianti. Santé!

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