January 18, 2004

Chutzpah Squared

Frank Rich's recent IHT column entitled Chutzpah and spiritual McCarthyism takes the cake.

In Rich's eyes, the Pope is a bit of a boob. His mind is slipping as he has "unwittingly" been roped into endorsing Mel Gibson's new movie. No pontiff with a quarter century of experience running the Vatican is so naive as to not understand exactly what is being requested when his opinion is being asked about a controversial movie he just saw. Papal endorsements have carried enormous weight for centuries. And what an endorsement! Five words that say it all. Five words that any first grade child would understand. "It is as it was" is a great feat of economical wordsmithing. Or it would be, if the Pope still had his wits about him. Rich's story makes no sense unless the Pope has lost them.

So, in the end, after slinging ugly accusations that Mel Gibson's producers take advantage of a mentally reduced pontiff, that Robert Novak is a McCarthyite, and that Archbishop Stansilaw Dziwisz is a liar, we are left with the impression that this most semitophillic of popes would leave such an interfaith time bomb ticking away without correcting the record in good time.

John Paul II runs a state. It's a small state, sure. But if any pontiff felt he had been roped "into a publicity campaign to sell a movie" under false pretenses he could certainly call his press secretary and correct any falsehood. And it would be covered, to the deep detriment of anybody foolish enough to lie about getting a papal blessing. The backlash would be tremendous.

And if some of the liars were Church officials? With a whisper the most powerful Cardinal can have his world stripped to the inside of a monk's cell if the Pope wishes it. It is an awesome power that this particular pontiff has been loathe to employ but that does not mean that there is anyone in the full-on scrum that is Vatican politics who is unaware that he retains it. And what would such a lie buy when everybody assumes that the papal throne will soon be vacant? The smallest misstep in the last 50 yards of a close race is fatal. And the race for the next papacy started in 1979.

Update: Here I go talking about the Pope being perfectly capable of defending himself and Archbishop Diwisz demonstrates it.

I said there would be backlash if they made up the quote. You bet there will be.

Posted by TMLutas at January 18, 2004 10:13 PM