Saturday, 26 January 2008

A Vatican Interlude.

Part One : A Vatican Interlude

Chapter One: Uncertainty.

{11 Days Earlier}
Vatican City . August 2001.

Ostensibly there was a compliant diffidence to the papal directive; a reaction Cardinal Athanasio found disconcerting....
It soon became apparent that few regarded the operation as tenable.

Although unvoiced, "Levi"'s shelving was so anticipated within the "ninth office" [officially an inconsequential arm of the vatican's diplomatic service -in reality the nerve-centre of the 'special operations executive'] that the preliminary "schema" were issued with an expediency which surprised all save those within the coterie's upper eschelons.
The deficit of dissent did not arise from acquiescence, but from incredulity.

The Cardinal reluctantly confronted the possibility that once again he must regrettably inform his superiors, and ultimately His Holiness; that it was simply not feasible to actuate his order.

With a grim despondent prayer that delay would bring hope, he requested that his immediate deputy, Sister Monica Tiernan, should notify "the ninth" that the schema were unacceptable and all leave was suspended until a favourable resolution was formulated.
Normally such recalcitrance would invoke hostility within a department renowned for its acute individualism and non-conformity; the outwardly humble submission indicated cognisance that "Fred was clutching at straws!"

[Athanasio's cognomen "freddo" - the cold one - supposed that the Cardinal's cadaverous demeanour reflected a persona in which emotion of any kind was anathema. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.]

The "ninth" was distinguished in its extraordinary remit of being officially "impero" to act in the fullest regard that, in the words of a papal predecessor : "charity and mercy go beyond all demands for justice "

Every Intelligence network has its "cleaners"; a department that seldom refrains from getting its hands dirty for the greater glory of the institution .

The Ninth Office ensured that those members of Holy Mother Church, clerical or lay, received the fullest ‘protection of the keys’; irrespective of desert.

Although regular crimes and misdemeanours were dealt with on a diocesan or provincial level by canonical tribunals and episcopal discretion; the ‘ninth’ attended to "any other business".
Generally this involved covert operations in places far from conducive to any Catholic influence or interference.
It was neither regionally assigned nor directed towards information gathering; these were within the auspices of larger and more notable wings of the service.
There were special deputations who presided over almost all the security dealings in China, South-East Asia, Southern Africa, the Middle East etc; Nigeria had its own semi-independent control centre and India had three.
Therefore the ninth office's apparent "influence" was waning at a time its necessity was perceived by the majority of the liberal, oecumenically-minded "movers and shakers" as verging upon defunct obsolescence; and by those of an antithetical viewpoint as an indispensable "bastion of hope".

Vatican "cognoscenti" knew otherwise:

Far from this being a transitional period of open-dialogue, a reaching out towards our separated brethren with like-minded sincerity; a state of civil war existed within the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Its once renegade fifth-column was now by far in preponderance within their own ranks.

[It is of little use to explain anything further here.]

Nevertheless were the Ninth Office’s manpower increased geometrically it would still be unable to do anything other than scratch the surface of the problems it sought to redress.

The Second Vatican Council's intent was to "open the windows to The Holy Spirit".

The poisons which lurked in the mud indeed "hatched out" but rather than...

No: This is neither the time nor place.

The Ninth was both saviour and victim.

The present Bishop of Rome had vast experience in surviving under totalitarian regimes; but somewhat less in confronting the vapid, insincere, pragmatic opportunist prevalent in contemporary diplomatic and clerical circles.

His naiive optimism was admirable, his unswerving faith in the altruistic nature of 'the informed and the justly-treated human' could not be doubted.
The reckless disregard for his own safety for the sake of higher ideals and human dignity was truly beyond reproach.
His enthusiastic openness to religious pluralism was nevertheless an aspiration only present in those who have been reared in a culture where a single creed held its sway ; one where there is neither experience nor wisdom on the issue.

Yet despite all this, the Successor to Peter was detested with a vehemence which had not been in such abundance since the time of Papa Pacelli - Pius XII.

Ironically the contempt was mainly driven from progressivist quarters within the church who were so abjectly ignorant of papal intention and policy they failed to realise he was their greatest ally.
Admittedly when it came to issues regarding Human Sexuality and the dignity towards Human Life he was , in the eyes of liberals, antediluvian and devoid of human compassion; but in relation to global politics, inter-faith discussion and liturgical innovation he was veritably "one of their own".

Those of the Traditionalist persuasion were more in despondency , if not despair , at the pontiff's reluctance to intervene and sweep clean the Augean stables than denounce him as heretic ; only the more vocal presumed to advocate such a stance.
The media, as is usual in such cases ; was blatantly unaware of the real crux of the situation.
Vatican commentators and correspondents were either so glibly overawed by the accoutrements of "being within the inner circle" or contaminated with their instilled anti-catholic agenda that they rarely even encroached upon that which could be perceived as possessing a modicum of reality.

The Pope entered into increasingly morose cycles of insecurity and the pain he endured from such hostility, antagonism and more readily a blatant disobedience and disregard for catholic orthodoxy was difficult to suppress; he developed an emotional intensity that became compromising to both his health and efficacy.
Papal biographies pieced together both questionable and anecdotal evidence; and pasted them to the author's [or his paymasters'] barely-hidden agenda; as is usual in such cases there was an inveterate predilection by the biographers to compare the Pontiff to a Shakespearean character that best-fitted their presumptions.

In reality the Servant of Servants was becoming increasingly isolated.
He could preach to hundreds of thousands and share their spiritual graces,their hopes and fears; joys and sorrows...
On a one-to-one level his insight and empathy shone through like a laser, melting away any anxiety or uncertainty.
It was within small groups and assemblies that the Holy Father became virtually helpless.
He had an almost allergic aversion to committees, cliques,deputations , inner rings...the corrupting, almost dehumanising effects of democratic "collective responsibility" where pragmatism reigned and integrity stumbled.
The adoption of corporate-based team strategies involving sponsors, project managers and key team leaders was something utterly alien and inhuman to him.
There was the old saying that a committee could make a camel, but only the One God could create the arab stallion.
The Post-Conciliar church "thrived [?]" on decentralisation and democratisation - No more so than in the USA which was now a law unto itself. They held ballots regarding their position on not only the liturgy and catechesis; but also doctrine and morality .
There was little recourse or even acknowledgement of Papal Primacy or the Magisterium or Catholic Tradition.
Indeed only a few months after the Pope had visited the country and pleaded with the government to abolish Capital Punishment the US conference of Bishops defiantly voted to adopt a diammetrically opposing stance!
There was no Vatican retaliation or re-affirmation of the authentic catholic teaching on the issue. From the wounded Pope came naught but silence....

It is perhaps due to this that when a bishop of little renown in an insignificant scottish town was interviewed by a local newspaper, and issued a withering critique of the state of the Church, it was readily ignored by all save a few; yet it perturbed the Pontiff.
Whether it was Divine Intervention or mere coincidence it was in this state of clouded confusion that the press cutting of Bishop Frasier's stinging diatribe was accompanied with a polite but terse letter from a very different source.

The letter's clarity and intellectual rigour was refreshingly inspirational and Monsignor O'Neill, the Papal Secretary, deemed it worthy of Papal consideration ; in the hope it may lighten the Pope's spirits.
To some extent it worked and His Holiness went so far as to inquire upon the position of the author. Had O'Neill made diocesan enquiries it should have resulted in little,if any detail, and it is quite possible that none of what is relayed herein would have happened ; but rather he asked a young priest from the writer's locality: present in Rome for advanced training in Canonical Jurisprudence.
Thus began all that follows:
The glib aside from an ambitious but knowledgeable cleric ; nervously loosening his tongue more than propriety usually decreed [ as only a "greenstick" would in the presence of the renowned papal secretary.]
The following day , O'Neill assumed this "gossip" would divert papal attention for a few moments away from the vagaries of the Petrine Office - a minor "human interest" story to break the silence over the breakfast table.
It did significantly more than that; for it was Cardinal Athanasio's "turn" on the Curial Rota to be a meal-guest that morning ; and he was visibly shaken upon hearing the name, and wary that a decade old "grave" was being disturbed.

Reinhardt would blame him for this, and as for Firenze??

Being fully aware of the circumstances, the cardinal sought a diversionary tactic by inserting a further point of interest - the author's unexpectedly notorious ancestry.
Instead of deflecting the conversation it intensified His Holiness's interest in the whole affair and much later , after a few hours pacing his subterranean office; Cardinal Athanasio deliberated that it was time to "come clean" about the whole incident.
'Ten minutes' had been set aside on the Pope's schedule for later that evening.
To the household's consternation the Holy Father did not retire till the early hours - Athanasio subsequently received a reprimand from Sister Carlotta for over-exciting the Pontiff with "trivial affairs of state" and the cardinal would better serve the Church and God if he left good men like His Holiness to sleep the peace of the just, and bad men like himself should be kneeling before the Blessed Mother reciting the rosary.
Few women had the audacity to dress-down a cardinal ; but Carlotta was unique in her charge and responsibilities.

When asked later , O'Neill was firmly of the opinion that it was the Frasier article that drove the Pope to action. The implication that Rome was being served by a "lame duck" led to an unusual over-reaction and ultimately the Papal insistence of the formulation of the "Levi directive".

The Ninth had worked with both capability and efficiency ; but there was little "fire or ice" within the proposals. To those within the department they knew it would never happen. O'Neill made a vainglorious attempt to revive its prospects to allay Papal impatience but he knew that , even with the support of Athanasio; It would require "intervening angels" to ensure its implementation.

Hence Athanasio's almost insouciant order : "Do it all again !"...

The directive's likely shelving left the order unchallenged. The department's attitude became almost diffident -especially given the abnormal circumstances.
Inevitably this conspiracy of silence was subverted by a relatively minor [albeit memorable] incident
Those involved would, in future less-happier times, somewhat irreverently recall it as a "karmic nexus". There is an ancient roman proverb :"res in cardine est" -"it all hangs by a doorhinge". Possibly many hundreds of lives were saved by that providence which deemed that, on that unusually dismal and overcast Tuesday in July , Monsignore Michal Lovec should spill his coffee....

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