Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Antipope


It had been a contentious conclave. Celestine VI was senile for the last seven years of his pontificate. As a result, there was a power struggle long before he died. The two leading contenders were Cardinal Mancini, Dean of the College of Cardinals, and Cardinal Andretti, Prefect for the CDF.

Mancini was a progressive or “liberal,” while Andretti as conservative or “reactionary”–the choice of epithet depending on the viewpoint of the speaker.

During the final years of his pontificate, Celestine was trotted out at carefully staged events were he had nothing much to do except sit on his throne, smile benignly, and make the sign of the cross.

Homilies were read on his behalf. Homilies allegedly written by Celestine himself. It was said that he was too nearsighted to read his own homilies. Of course, the real reason is that he was too feeble-minded to recite a prepared speech.

And, in fact, Cardinal Mancini and Cardinal Andretti ghostwrote the homilies. They also ghostwrote his encyclicals. But that was only known to a few insiders within the bowels of the Curia.

This left many bishops, theologians, and Vatican watchers bewildered, since Celestine’s encyclicals and homilies would lurch to the right, then lurch the left, in utterly unpredictable ways.

Mind you, most of the faithful were oblivious to what the pope actually said, as long as he projected a beatific presence. But Vatican insiders as well as bishops around the world felt the pressing need for theological stability.


During the first two years of his Pontificate, Andretti, who took the name of Pope Adrian VII, managed to pacify disaffected Catholics on the rightwing of the spectrum. At first the sedevacantists were both hopeful and skeptical. They’d been disappointed so often. Would he go soft in office? But his “regressive” policies won them over.

Of course, the liberals were aghast. But Andretti had a certain charm. He had learned a thing or two from his predecessor. As long as he could smile benignly and make pretty speeches about love, justice, and world peace, he had the faithful on his side. They didn’t pay much attention to his “regressive” policies.


One day, when Andretti took his afternoon nap, he woke up in a dark, tinny, boxy compartment of some sort. He started to yell and kick and bang away.

Suddenly it became light as man in a white jacket and a startled expression opened the door and pulled him out. Andretti blinked his eyes in the bright light. He was stark naked, lying atop stainless steel drawer.

It took him a few moments to compose himself. He looked around. He was in the morgue of the Gemelli hospital. He looked down at his body. Only it wasn’t his body. According to the toe-tag, it belonged to a Tullio Pinza.

As it turns out, Tullio Pinza was an assembly lineman at Fiat with a wife and six kids. He died of congestive heart failure two hours earlier.

How did Andretti get here? How did he get into this body?

Unbeknownst to him, Cardinal Mancini had formed a business relationship Mme. Duvalier, a Mambo living on the outskirts of Rome.

The next day, as Andretti was paging through L'Osservatore Romano, he read about the sudden death of Cardinal Mancini–the day before. About the same time Tullio Pinza expired. About the same time a wire transfer was made from the Banco di Santo Spirito to Mme. Duvalier’s account.


Andretti found it awkward, not to say frustrating, to adjust to his new identity as married auto worker with six kids. For one thing, his wife was getting impatient with the fact that “Tullio” hadn’t resumed conjugal relations. But the body-swap posed some intricate questions of casuistry. What were his domestic duties to this woman? He was married to her in body, but not in spirit. And how did his vow of chastity apply in this unusual situation?

Then there was the matter of the Vatican. If he was no longer pope, then who was? He still saw Pope “Adrian” on TV. It was a bit disconcerting to watch someone commandeer your body and take all the credit. Indeed, it felt distinctly schizophrenic to see someone walking around in your own body, giving speeches and saying Mass. Who was that man addressing the throng from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica? What was going on behind the eyes?


As weeks wore into months, papal policy began to bear a startling resemblance to the policies of the late Cardinal Mancini.

The sedevacantists felt dismayed and betrayed as papal policy took a hard left, after having taken a hard right just two years earlier. They denounced “Adrian” as a Quisling and Antipope. But they were dismissed as a lunatic fringe-group.

Bishops, theologians, and Vatican watchers were also bewildered–though not necessarily displeased with this turn of events.

Pope “Adrian” was shredding Andretti’s reputation–since Andretti got the blame for his imposter’s antics. Andretti wrote indignant letters to L'Osservatore Romano. However, letters from an auto worker declaring himself to be the real pope while the current incumbent was the Antipope never made it past the editorial desk.

So he wrote the police. He challenged the police to compare handwriting samples of his own writing with Cardinal Andretti’s handwriting. This tactic succeeded in capturing the attention of the authorities. Unfortunately for him, Andretti, a.k.a. Tullio, was indicted on several counts of forgery and identity theft.

After having been interviewed by several court-appointed psychiatrists, Andretti was involuntarily committed to a sanatorium. He died nine years later, proclaiming himself to be the real pope to the bitter end.

In the meantime, “Adrian” had a long pontificate. By the time he died, and a new conclave was held, most of the cardinals, including his successor, were his personal appointees–thereby securing the indefectible succession of the Antipapacy.

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