Nearer to Thee? My God!

The Pope Didn't Jump, He Was Pushed

The Los Angeles Times has done it again, recently scooping the world with the latest in the ongoing adventures of Pope (Emeritus) Benedict XVI, nee Joseph Ratzinger. This time it’s about both a rat and a zinger. The former is a mole this humble sheet maintains in the Vatican in the person of Paolo, the reinstated papal butler, formerly catacombed for undressing the Pontiff in more ways than one. The zinger, of course, is the L.A. Times’ gee-whiz breaking news item. As is customary with the mainstream media, they come up with the big headline without nailing the real back story. Listen up:

Over Tom Kingston’s byline, the good-news-bad-news revelation began:

Former Pope Benedict XVI, who shocked the world by resigning In February, has reportedly revealed that God told him to do it, during a “mystical experience.” The first pontiff to step down in six centuries, Benedict said, “God told me to,” when asked about his decision to dedicate himself to a life of prayer instead. The 86-year-old Pope Emeritus said he had not witnessed a vision of God but had undergone a months-long “mystical experience” during which God gave him the “absolute desire” to forge a deeper relationship with him. Benedict also said that the more he witnessed the “charisma” of his extremely popular successor Pope Francis, the more he understood how his stepping aside was the “will of God.”

The source of the Times’ report was impeccable – no less an objective medium than the Church’s own news agency Zenit. That title, by the way, is a fitting metaphor for the papacy itself: think of the peak or the apotheosis, as in next-to-God, but withholding the final “h” (Heaven) subject to indulgences. (Or are we being too fanciful? – Ed.) Furthermore, the Zenit report was supported, according to the Times, by “a senior Vatican source,” which has to mean at least a Cardinal Junior Grade, or perhaps even Paolo, the former undresser, now sprung, whom we maintain as our covert Vatican wikileaker.

“The report seems credible,” the Source told The L.A. Times.   “It accurately explains the spiritual process that brought Benedict to resign.”

Benedict has always been a stickler for the spiritual process. It was evident when he morphed from the Hitler Youth into the priesthood, and it was also revealed later when – as a modest bishop – he demonstrated his devotion to the Church by shielding a gaggle of German priests from the machinations of evil altar boys who sought to profile them. Finally, as a Cardinal with clout in the Vatican, he reached the Zenit(h) of spirituality by admonishing priests and bishops worldwide that they would report clerical lapses at the risk of being sent to The Bad Place, and we don’t mean the catacombs.

Back in February, when he announced his resignation, Benedict stuck to the conventional exit line, that poor health was taking its toll, and that unlike all the other Popes in the past 600 years, he wanted to devote his life solely to prayer and penitence and to spend more time with his pigeons.

This was brought forcibly home to him previously on the occasion when, from his favorite balcony, he released a symbolic pigeon as the climax of  the “Altar Boy of the Year Award,’ before a cheering multitude in St. Peter’s Square. Who could forget the nasty symbolism of the vicious Adriatic sea gull that clobbered the Pope’s pigeon?

It was at that moment, according to Paolo, who was standing nearby with the winning altar boy, that His Holiness (now Emeritus) realized how transitory our earthly life is, and also how the forces of evil are constantly threatening the Godly, especially the nearest-to-Godly. Right there and then, Paolo said, he heard God tell him in no uncertain terms to take his $200 million salary (Peter’s Pence) – or two thirds of it by way of retirement fund – and seek the prayer, penitence (as well as the pence) and piety for the rest of his humble life.

The Times’ report went on to note that in recent months, the Pope had been demoralized by the leaking of his personal effects by Paolo, his now absolved butler, (which included his Hitler Youth shoulder patches, some personal letters and a check for $100,000 from the Grey Nuns of Madawaska). His Holiness had also been saddened by the constant lobbying of a delegation of gay clergy within the Vatican, whom he may have suspected of dispatching the murderous sea gull.

Now, thanks to Zenit and the L.A. Times, it’s evident that God had taken a hand even earlier. Benedict told the Source and the Source told the L.A. Times that back around Christmas Eve God had appeared to him like the ghost of Jacob Marley. In a truly mystical experience, He intimated that as His vice-God on earth it was high time He had somebody more robust. Oh, say, for example, like that junta Jesuit (pronounced “hunta Hesuit”) in Argentina, who by all appearances could handle the traditionally Italian-dominated College of Cardinals like LBJ used to Texas chain-saw the congressional Republicans.

Apparently, deep in the throes of a spiritual process, in fact, a mystical experience, Benedict has received few visitors ever since in the humble digs he now occupies rent-free just abaft St. Peter’s Basilica. A few old Vermacht buddies, a delegation of mendicant Australian canon lawyers, a four-star bishop to arrange for plain-clothes security, and on one occasion a pizza delivery boy camouflaged as a Swiss Guard, since Pope Francis as an austerity measure has banned all elaborate cuisine, except for his humble favorites, tortillas and refried beans.

“During these meetings,” Zenit reported, “the ex-Pontiff does not comment, does not reveal secrets, does not make statements that could be understood as ‘the words of the other Pope,’ but is as reserved as he has always been.”

A good thing, too. The humble Francis, according to secret dispatches from Paolo, hides his Argentinian argumentativeness under a cloak of hispanic humor (spelled “jispanic jumor” in Argentina). Francis recently joked about having two popes under one roof, telling reporters: “The last time there were two or three popes, they didn’t talk among themselves and they fought over who was the true pope!” Referring no doubt to the Borgias. But having mild-mannered Benedict living in the Vatican, he added, “is like having a grandfather — a wise grandfather — living at home.”

Good old laughing boy Jorge. Questioned about his predecessor on an informal occasion, he rapidly lapsed into Latin and pronounced only : “Benedictus wreckedus.”

But all jispanic jumor aside, the L.A. Times report effectively established the truth of Ratzinger’s departure. The Pope didn’t retire. Nor did the oft-quoted International Tribunal into The Crimes of Church and State (ITCCS) call for his removal by indicting him.

God fired him. As part of a mystical experience, of course, by asking for his resignation. An offer he couldn’t refuse.

Bill Annett writes four newsletters: The Canadian Shield, American Logo, Beating the Street, and The Oyster World. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Bill.