The Pope Eats His Porridge
I'm at the Anacortes Library this Sunday afternoon. Thousands of visitors are swarming over the farm roads near my home in LaConner -- come to see the blooming tulips -- so I drove over here to avoid the crowd.
I might take the ferry to Guemes Island later on, like at 5 p.m. It's a five minute boat ride, costs $2 if you walk on. When you get off the boat on Guemes Island, there's a nice beach walk, which takes about an hour, and then you can get back on the 6 p.m. ferry.
The weather is delicious, mild, almost warm, and the skies are blue.
Meanwhile the Pope is having a hard time. Maureen Dowd at the NYTimes is laying into him pretty hard. Myself, I made a decision in 2005 when he became Pope Benedict, following the great John Paul II.
I looked at the new Pope and thought, "He's a funny-looking guy with a name that sounds pretty weird in English, so he's going to need a friend."
So, I decided to be his friend. It's as simple as that. And that doesn't make the Pope right or anything like that, it just makes him my friend.
I just hope he doesn't do one of those awful apologies like Tiger Woods or John Edwards or Bill Clinton. Those public displays are deeply unsatisfying to me.
No, the Pope needs to do something much better than that -- something papal, like a public penance.
Since the papacy is a truly medieval institution, let's look back in time:
In 1170, Henry II of England arranged for the murder of Thomas Becket, the archbishop of Canterbury. Now Becket was a much-loved man, and the reaction to his murder was a widespread public condemnation of Henry's evil deed.
Kings back then were not as powerful as they wished to be. Henry had to win back his people. So he did penance. He rode to Canterbury, but walked barefoot the last few miles in ragged clothes -- not looking the king at all in velvet and furs.
Henry prostrated himself before the monks of Canterbury -- his own subjects -- and the monks beat him with rods until they were done with him.
That was his penance and most people then and now think that Henry had it coming.
Becket's murder has inspired many plays, such as T.S. Eliot's "Murder in the Cathedral" and also many movies, such as "The Lion in Winter" with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn.
Becket's tomb became a shrine and the destination of pilgrimages, made famous by Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, which take place as pilgrims ride to Canterbury to pray at Becket's tomb.
They have long memories at the Vatican, and are well aware of Becket's murder -- a prince of the church and he was slain by a murderous monarch. That was in 1170, but it was only yesterday at the Vatican.
So, it would be far better if Benedict made a public penance in a dramatic style, as they did in medieval times. Penance for what he let happen. Not because he was solely responsible, or more responsible -- I don't think that.
But penance because he was responsible, and because he is the symbolic figurehead of thousands of other people who bear just as much guilt.
This is satisfying to me, which is why I propose it.
I object strongly to the modern methods of apology, like going on Larry King and Oprah with expressions of remorse, looking for "closure" and and then saying "now the healing can begin." Then someone writes one of those awful confessional books -- called "soul-baring." Ugh!
There is no closure. After Henry II did his penance for the murder, he went on to commit other crimes, some much more awful. He invaded Ireland and slaughtered peasants by the hundreds. He fought and killed and lied and cheated, because he was a king and that's what kings did. Henry did not improve or become a better man, but he did his penance.
So there's the Pope, over in Italy, and he's still my friend. He gets up every morning and he goes to the room where he eats his breakfast.
He is being served by an old German nun who has been fixing his breakfast every day for forty years. She has no awe for Pope Benedict, she knows him too well. He's a man, she knows, just like the rest of us. He never wanted to be Pope. He was happiest working for John Paul II.
"It really isn't my fault," the Pope might be saying to the German nun over his porridge. "This has been going on for centuries. John Paul II knew about it too, but John Paul was great and magnificent and handsome, so he wasn't blamed. But I will be blamed because I am a funny-looking man with a name that sounds weird in English.
"Why is it my fault?" he said. She says back to him, "because you're the Pope."
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