Viva il Papa!

ROME–I didn’t see the puff of white smoke right away–I was too busy trying to decipher the Cardinal’s awful handwriting, and my Nigerian was years out of practice. A source of mine within the conclave had been able to send out a note giving me the inside dirt on the second vote, which had failed to elect a Pope.

That’s when she squeezed my arm and gasped. Monica was a model in Milan. She came to Rome when she got word I would be covering the funeral and the conclave for Vanity Fair. I had tried to dissuade her (even though she said she was over me, the tear stains on her last letter told me otherwise), but she showed up anyway. Of course she made certain to look her most stunning. When she saw on Sunday night at Piazza Novona that I meant it–that I was in love with an American girl–she sobbed, but told me those were the words she was waiting to hear. By Tuesday, she was in the convent.

So sister Mary Monica saw the white smoke come from the Sistine Chapel’s chimney before I did. I looked up. “It’s Ratzinger,” I said–

Actually, I said “I hope it’s Ratzinger.” And I only said it to myself. And I was really in my apartment–in Washington. And it was my brother, not an Italian model, who told me–over instant messenger.

I turned on CNN, and soon saw a Cardinal appear on the balcony on St. Peter’s Square. He said (what sounded to me like), “Agnus Dei, agricola veni, vidi, vici, ipso facto nominus spiritus dominus . . . RATZINGER!”

And so, the College of Cardinals has quashed the hope that had been brewing at The New York Times, the Jesuit schools, and AndrewSullivan.com since John Paul II got really old (which was about 20 years ago) that the next Pope would not be quite so . . . Catholic.

As usual, illumination on the subject came from the poignant pen of Maureen Dowd on the inestimable pages of The New York Times. If only Dowd had written a day earlier, the Cardinals would have known where to look for guidance on the future of the Church: America’s cable-television industry.

The following is a real (un-elided) excerpt from Dowd’s column:

In Washington last week, Rupert Murdoch echoed Mr. Moonves in giving the American Society of Newspaper Editors some bad news about young people in the age of the Internet, blogging and cable news:

“They don’t want to rely on the morning paper for their up-to-date information. They don’t want to rely on a god-like figure from above to tell them what’s important. . . . They certainly don’t want news presented as gospel.”

So media big shots are moving away from patriarchal, authoritarian voice-of-God figures, even as the Catholic Church and politics are moving toward patriarchal, authoritarian voice-of-God figures.

Dowd’s insight: If we don’t want Dan Rather acting like he speaks for God, why would Catholics want the Holy Father–the Vicar of Christ–to act like he speaks for God? And if we don’t want news presented as gospel, why would we want the Gospels presented as gospel?

Luckily for the folks on the West Coast, they didn’t have to flip to back pages of their “paper of record” to find out why they should fear Pope Benedict XVI. The Los Angeles Times news pages repeatedly criticized the erstwhile Cardinal Ratzinger for believing in the “primacy of Catholicism.”

The L.A. Times has a good point of reference in Cardinal Mahony, who holds a less strident view than the Pope, probably describing Catholicism as “up there,” but not certainly not saying it’s the best. It would be so uncouth, after all, to say that you think the religion you believe in is any more true than the ones you have decided not to believe in.

In some ways, Pope Benedict XVI is the perfect villain for the Left. If a scriptwriter for James Bond came up with the name RATZINGER, he would be sent back home to invent a more believable bad-guy name. The new Pope is German, which is a crime in itself, and the office he headed under Pope John Paul II, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is the heir to the infamous Inquisition.

The liberals take solace in the fact that Benedict XVI is a “transition Pope,” as they put it. They tell themselves it’s only a few years before they can get a Pope who’s a bit more reasonable–maybe even a Unitarian!

Tim Carney is a Phillips Fellow and a free-lance journalist in Washington, D.C.

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