On the Catholic Bishops’ Vote and the Unsolvable Dilemma

As all who care are aware, last month the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) voted by a large margin to – in the USCCB’s own words – “… task [its] Committee on Doctrine to move forward with the drafting of a formal statement on the meaning of the Eucharist in the life of the Church.”  In the Catholic faith, under the doctrine of “Transubstantiation,” the whole substance of bread and wine are changed into the substance of the Body and Blood of Jesus (the “Eucharist” or “Communion”) when consecrated by the priest during the Mass.  The words describing the Doctrine Committee’s assignment, innocuous in and of themselves, were widely interpreted as an initiative by conservative Catholic bishops to issue a statement disfavoring the provision of Communion to pro-choice Catholic politicians such as President Joe Biden.  The USCCB’s action stirred immediate and intense controversy, and apparently caused the body to issue a qualification that “There will be no national policy on withholding Communion from politicians.”  Even so, American Bishops’ overwhelming support for creating a document which might at least impliedly cast disapprobation upon pro-choice Catholic politicians underscores the marked rift between Catholic liberals and conservatives that has developed in the U.S. Catholic Church.

That life begins at conception is one of the core tenets of the Christian faith.  Even the fiercest pro-choice advocates will presumably acknowledge that if one accepts the premise that the fetus is indeed a person, the conclusion that abortion is murder is inescapable. No one can deny the emotional force, the hope, the prayer that drives a couple yearning to have a child and the joy that accompanies their earliest awareness that a baby is in the mother’s womb; it makes one wonder why the Almighty grants conception to some who have no wish for it, while withholding the blessing from others so desperately seeking it.

I nonetheless find the seeming thrust of USCCB’s initiative deeply troubling both as a Catholic, and as an American.  From a personal standpoint, I, like the President, have been a practicing Catholic my entire life.  I, and I assume the President, believe that life begins at conception.  My spouse and I, and I assume the President and Mrs. Biden, would not have aborted a fetus.  It accordingly appears to me that despite the fact that I have tried for close to seven decades – while admittedly frequently failing — to be a faithful Catholic, any disapprobation that the majority of American Catholic officialdom may, even by implication, level at Mr. Biden is also directed at me, given my support for his candidacy against a materialist with notable fascist tendencies who, notwithstanding his purported “pro-life” stance, enthusiastically incites false and hateful discord among our people and intentionally implemented demonstrably inhumane border policies while in office.

I will always believe that the best way forward for our nation is through accommodation of competing positions held in good faith (i.e., not espoused for political or other self-interest).  Abortion is the one issue that seems to me by its very nature to defy compromise between Americans sincerely holding conflicting views. That said, I would submit that Christians’ belief that life begins at conception — no matter how fervently held — is, inherently, no more (or less) than a matter of Faith.  Many scientists reject the notion that the few cells existing upon and for a period following conception constitute “life.”  I claim no expertise in other religions, but understand that neither Jewish nor Islamic scholars consider life to begin at conception, and that these Faiths do not prohibit abortion in the early stages of pregnancy.  There are certainly millions of Americans of other or no faiths who reject the notion that life obtains either at conception or for a period thereafter.  Justice Harry Blackmun, in Roe v. Wade, observed, “It is undisputed [i.e., even those defending the Texas criminal abortion statutes at issue in Roe conceded] that, at common law, abortion performed before ‘quickening’ – the first recognizable movement of the fetus in utero, appearing usually from the 16th to the 18th week of pregnancy – was not an indictable offense. …  In this country, the law in effect in all but a few States until mid-19th century was the preexisting English common law.”  [Note to the Originalists now sitting on the U.S. Supreme Court.  ;)].  Notwithstanding more recent holdings arguably designed to limit abortion rights, the Supreme Court held in Roe and has maintained since that a woman has the constitutional right to abort a fetus.  It is Mr. Biden’s duty as President to protect women’s constitutional rights as defined by the Supreme Court and to not impose his personal faith beliefs on the American people – the majority of whom, if polls are to be believed, favor women’s right to early term abortions. 

Despite its backtrack, there is no little irony in the USCCB’s apparent intent to pressure Mr. Biden, given the reassurance that then-Democratic Presidential candidate U.S. MA Sen. John F. Kennedy delivered in September, 1960, to a conference of Protestant Ministers fearful of the influence that the Vatican might seek to assert on a Catholic president:

“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute, where no Catholic prelate would tell the president (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no … minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote …  I believe in an America … where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials …. I want a chief executive … whose fulfillment of his presidential oath is not limited or conditioned by any religious oath, ritual or obligation. … Whatever issue may come before me as president … I will make my decision … in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates.”

One of our children remarked to me recently that while our family was being raised, there was much greater emphasis in our household on our Catholic faith than there was on our identity as American citizens.  Despite my many failings, I hopefully still place much greater weight on what I believe the Almighty expects of me than I do upon my responsibilities as an American.  Even so, I have not been able to avoid the conclusion that in a diverse secular civil society pledged to separate the affairs of church and state, I should accept the fact that my religious beliefs regarding abortion are not shared by a substantial segment of my fellow citizens.  I accordingly cannot make the abortion issue my overriding civic focus. I fear that any attempts by American Catholic hierarchy to impose its views upon the nation generally will ultimately severely undermine the Church’s mission in the United States. 

Although Mr. Kennedy’s words obviously no longer resonate with U.S. Catholic officialdom, I would venture that the following passage offers ample ground for reflection – perhaps providing solace, perhaps evoking despair — for an American Catholic who seeks in good conscience to differentiate between faith and civic responsibilities:

[Then the Pharisees said,] ‘Tell us, then, what is your opinion:  Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not?’  … Jesus said, ‘… Show me the coin that pays the census tax.’  Then they handed him the Roman coin.  He said to them, ‘Whose image is this and whose inscription?’  They replied, ‘Caesar’s.’  At that he said to them, ‘Then repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.’

Mt. 22: 17 – 21

Easter Reflections on the Georgia Election Law

As all who care are aware, the Republican-dominated Georgia legislature recently passed the state’s “Election Integrity Act of 2021,” purportedly to address alleged irregularities in the state’s voting processes that, according to Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger and as established by several state presidential vote recounts, were never there.  The law appears a pretty ham-handed attempt by Georgia Republicans to limit the voting opportunities of Democratic-leaning voters in a state that has, judging by the narrow 2020 victories of Democrats President Joe Biden and U.S. GA Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, the potential to trend increasingly Democratic.

A provision in the statute that has garnered a fair amount of attention is Section 33, which in the guise of preventing voter inducement, prohibits anyone but a poll officer from “… giving … food and drink, to an elector” in the vicinity of a polling place.

Clearly, anyone determined to wait in line to vote despite a notable thirst has already affirmatively decided how s/he will vote; the rationale that evil doers might be able to persuade a malleable voter to change his/her vote by offering the elector a drink of water – when the voter, if s/he cared so little about the substance of his/her ballot, could simply leave the line and slake his/her thirst — is on its face absurd.  The repressive aspect of the measure has been extensively noted; however, what also struck me were the ironies related to the provision.

First, the prohibition on furnishing food or drink to an elector waiting in the vicinity of a polling place evinces such mean-spirited pettiness that it has made me ponder whether such an obvious display of cancerous partisanship might even cause a conscientious conservative jurist to question the statute’s constitutionality.

That said, what seems to me the sharpest irony arising from this provision — perhaps brought to mind by the Easter Season, combined with a high level of confidence that the majority of the Republican Georgia legislators who voted for the Act consider themselves Christians — is embedded in the Gospel:

“Jesus said, ‘I thirst.’  There was a vessel filled with common wine.  So they put a sponge soaked in wine on a sprig of hyssop and put it up to his mouth.  When Jesus had taken the wine, He said, ‘It is finished.’”

John 19:28-30

Georgia Republican legislators have prohibited the provision of a humane accommodation to fellow Georgians seeking to exercise their constitutional rights that Roman soldiers provided to one they had just crucified as a criminal.

May you have the opportunity to celebrate this time of the year, including as it does holy days sacred to those of multiple Faiths, in the manner you consider most fitting.  Stay safe.

Happy Holidays

[These pages may well address on another day the continuing flagrant – if hardly surprising – depravity we are witnessing as the Trump Administration dissolves.  It seems that the remainder of at least this week is best devoted to what Mr. Lincoln in his first Inaugural Address called, “the better angels of our nature.”]  

Perhaps you believe that God sent His (hopefully all will excuse this note’s use of male pronouns for the Almighty) only Son into the world as the Sacrificial Lamb that redeemed us from our sins.  Perhaps your Faith, proclaimed by the Prophets, holds the promise of a Messiah yet to come.  Perhaps you worship Allah, and abide by the teachings promulgated by his Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad.  Perhaps you devoutly follow one of the great Eastern or other sacred Faiths, of which my own knowledge is embarrassingly inadequate (a gap on my retirement list yet to be addressed).  Perhaps you have placed your trust in the Great Spirit of Native American tradition, or have made your own peace with a Being beyond our comprehension.  I believe that one who lives a life pleasing to the Almighty will be reconciled to Him, no matter by what path one has chosen to reach Him.  After a terribly challenging year on so many levels – including a virus which might be characterized as a plague, by Biblical standards – let us hope that as we take heart from what will be an uncommonly limited level of community with family and friends as this year ends, the Almighty provides us the strength, grace, and wisdom to have greater understanding in the coming year for the justifiable concerns of others, and that we work together so that by the end of next year, life will be at least a little better for at least some of those of our citizens and around the world beset by so many burdens.

Have Happy and Safe Holidays.   

How long, O Lord?

I had no intent to post today; it promises to be a busy week ahead.  Focused as I am on the upcoming election, and as numb as I have apparently become to the endless stream of unfeeling actions perpetrated by Mr. Trump and his cohort, the instance of Trump Administration callousness revealed this week almost failed to embed with me:  that in 2017, in a brutal attempt to discourage Latinos from seeking to immigrate to our country, our government forcibly separated over 500 children from their parents at our southern border – and failed to keep records which would enable it to reunite the families.  The Administration is now unable to locate the parents.  The children remain in cages that during last week’s debate, President Trump grotesquely defended – really – as “so clean.”

Many that follow these pages are parents.  I suspect that all that read these posts cherish the love they received from their parents.  These people, who came seeking refuge from us, were and are being treated like animals.

What brought me back was the first reading in today’s Mass, a familiar one:

“Thus says the Lord:

‘You shall not molest or oppress an alien, for you were once aliens yourself in the land of Egypt.  You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.  If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me, I will surely hear their cry.  My wrath will flare up, and I will kill you with the sword; then your own wives will be widows, and your children orphans.’”

Exodus 22: 20 – 23

Not long ago, Rev. James Altman, a pastor in La Crosse, Wisconsin, released a viral video in which he declared, “You cannot be Catholic and be a Democrat,” and has reportedly called liberals “fascist bullies” acting “just like Hitler’s Nazis did.” He believes that Catholics must support Republicans and Mr. Trump because of their opposition to abortion.

I’m confident that Fr. Altman has reconciled today’s Exodus passage with his vehement support of Mr. Trump.  I cannot.  That said, I cannot presume to judge; he is responsible to the Almighty for his soul, as I am for mine.

Today’s Exodus passage brought other Scripture verses to mind for me:

“How long, O Lord?  Will you utterly forget me?  How long will you hide your face from me?  How long shall I harbor sorrow in my soul, grief in my heart day after day?  How long will my enemy triumph over me?  Look, answer me, O Lord, my God!”

Psalms 13: 1-2      

May we receive the means to aid those now suffering at our hands.

On Mr. Trump … and the Prophet Ezekiel

A couple of weeks ago at a Cleveland campaign stop, President Trump indicated that Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden, a practicing Catholic, was “against God,” and that if elected president, Mr. Biden will “hurt God” and “hurt the Bible.”  I found the President’s rant both absurd and shocking, but it was, like so many before it, shortly driven down my stream of consciousness by Mr. Trump’s continuing torrent of malign inanities. 

I am also a Catholic, albeit deeply flawed.  What caused me to recall Mr. Trump’s Cleveland rant – faith-based attacks uttered by one who for all practical purposes espouses racism, has bragged about grabbing women by their private parts, has belittled the handicapped, has approved the intentional separation of children from their parents at our borders, has sought to downplay the scope and effect of a deadly virus upon our people in order to enhance his own political fortunes, and has most recently referred sympathetically to Qanon, an alt-right fringe group embracing the notion that some Democrats are Satan-worshipping pedophiles — was the following, read during one of this week’s daily Masses:

Thus says the Lord GOD:  Woe to the shepherds of Israel who have been pasturing themselves!  Should not shepherds, rather, pasture sheep?  You have fed off their milk, worn their wool, and slaughtered the fatlings, but the sheep you have not pastured.  You did not strengthen the weak nor heal the sick nor bind up the injured.  You did not bring back the strayed nor seek the lost, but you lorded it over them harshly and brutally.  So they were scattered for the lack of a shepherd, and became food for all the wild beasts. ….

As I live, says the Lord GOD, because my sheep have been given over to pillage, and because my sheep have become food for every wild beast, for lack of a shepherd; because my shepherds did not look after my sheep, but pastured themselves and did not pasture my sheep ….

I swear I am coming against these shepherds.  I will claim my sheep from them and put a stop to their shepherding my sheep so that they may no longer pasture themselves. ….”  

Ezekiel, 34: 1-5; 8; 10

Mr. Biden’s acceptance speech last night seemed to me most fundamentally that … of a caring shepherd.  Notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s references to God and the Bible, I think it’s fair to assume that the President has little familiarity with the Book of Ezekiel.  From his perspective, perhaps just as well.

A Coronavirus Kaleidoscope: Part IV

In mid-March, even before WI Gov. Tony Evers issued his first Coronavirus-related Executive “Safe at Home” Order for Wisconsinites, Bishop Donald J. Hying dispensed with Madison Diocese Catholics’ obligation to attend Mass on Sundays for a specified period due to the Coronavirus. Sunday Mass attendance is a fundamental obligation of Roman Catholicism. For Bishop Hying and other U.S. Bishops to dispense with this obligation (including and past Easter) was undoubtedly a torturously difficult decision undertaken after the deepest prayer and reflection. While this lay Catholic would submit that Bishop Hying’s action was unquestionably the correct one, practically and theologically (Luke 14:5: “[W]ho among you, if your son … falls into a cistern, would not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”), I suspect that Church hierarchy is nonetheless concerned as to how many of the clearly dwindling number of practicing Catholics, having been separated from their customary Sunday ritual for weeks, will return to the pews when the crisis passes.

There is endless commentary as to how the Administration’s handling of the pandemic will affect President Trump’s prospects for re-election.   Here is mine: it’s too early to tell. Immediately below this is a link to The Week site, setting forth the 10 things that The Week felt we needed to know on September 15, 2019 – now about as far in the past as we are from Election Day 2020. There is not a word in The Week report regarding Mr. Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president or resulting impeachment proceedings, the race for the Democratic Presidential nomination, the impending Coronavirus (which didn’t surface for another 10 weeks), the death of Los Angeles Laker great Kobe Bryant, etc. There are too many unknowns that will occur between now and Election Day.

https://theweek.com/10things/861287/10-things-need-know-today-september-15-2019

If a Democrat was in the White House, how likely is it that prominent members of the U.S. Evangelical movement would be proclaiming that the Coronavirus is a plague unleashed upon us by the Almighty due to our Godless ways? As IBM used to challenge NFL fans: You make the call.

Although it is frequently difficult during this contentious time in our nation’s journey – and assuredly not always easy for one of Irish temperament — may we maintain respect and regard for each other.  Today is Good Friday, within the most sacred season of the Christian year.  April 8 marked the beginning of Passover; we have a Jewish member of our family, and so are Jewish as well as Christian.  Ramadan commences April 23; while we have no Muslim members, frequently lost in the world’s discord is a point Huston Smith made in The World’s Religions: “Like the Jews, the Arabs consider themselves a Semitic people.” For these three and all Faiths – and for those who do not embrace faith — this is a good time to reflect on what must hold us together.  As the Lord – revered as a holy man by the majority of the world’s religious — taught:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and shalt hate thy enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute and calumniate you … For if you love those that love you, what reward shall you have? … You therefore are to be perfect even as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:43-44, 46, 48.

[Note: I take solace from the fact that although He loved the Scribes and the Pharisees, He clearly wasn’t shy about calling them out for their behavior   ;).  See Matthew 23: 1-39].

Stay safe.

The Wisdom and Power of God …

Yesterday, Father’s Day in the United States and many other countries around the world, the Catholic Church celebrated (I assume by coincidence) Holy Trinity Sunday. The first reading at yesterday’s Sunday Masses was from the Old Testament’s Book of Proverbs, and set forth expositions from a personified Wisdom, seemingly separate from God:

Thus says the [W]isdom of God: …

“When the Lord established the heavens I was there,

when he marked out the vault over the face of the deep;

when he made firm the skies above,

when he fixed fast the foundations of the earth;

when he set for the sea its limit,

so that the waters should not transgress his command;

then was I beside him as his craftsman …

and I found delight in the human race.” [Emphasis added]. Proverbs 8:22 – 31

The juxtaposition of this Proverbs passage with Father’s Day – the image of the Loving Father — brought again to mind the Church’s seemingly visceral obliviousness both to the horror of the systemic human violations it let occur and covered up for generations and to the effect that the revelations of these atrocities have had upon its credibility. 35 years ago, our parish had five English Masses each weekend. Now, it has three.  (All credit for the fourth Mass, in Spanish, meeting a need that I don’t believe our parish had decades ago.)  Gray is a prevalent hair color among worshippers. This observation is in no way intended to impugn some very fine pastors we’ve had; good priests have also become victims of the Church’s conspiracy. It speaks to the now-obvious endemic failings within the Church.

At least in Madison (very possibly a legacy of our now-deceased Bishop, Robert Morlino), we are seeing more pomp and ceremony than I can recall since my youth [pre-Vatican II 😉 ] – incense, an occasional Latin chant, ornate tabernacles prominently on display. Perhaps some in Church leadership believe that gilt can be substituted for guilt. The hierarchy (as someone very close to me regularly points out, a bunch of old men) seems completely at a loss to either see or address the fact that most of the young people in developed nations are no longer listening. These young aren’t impressed by the Church’s grand physical manifestations; on a purely material level, its grandeur pales in comparison to the most mundane of the last decade’s video games.

As horrific as the specific instances of abuse are – and I admit that it’s easier for me to say this, since our children had positive experiences with our religious, all loving people dedicated to God – I would submit that Church leadership’s intentional disregard and concerted cover up of religious’ illicit activities over decades if not centuries was the even-more monstrous wrong. This went beyond individual aberration.

If Wisdom was indeed there as the Lord established the heavens, marked out the face of the deep, made the skies firm, fixed the earth’s foundations, and set the sea’s limit … it seems unclear where Wisdom was as the Body of Christ became infected by a chronic pernicious disease. The Doctrine of Free Will seems a less and less adequate explanation. It is gut wrenching. A cure seems out of reach … save for the Power of God.

On the Passing of Bishop Morlino

Bishop Robert Morlino of the Madison Diocese passed away on the evening of November 24.

To his supporters, Bishop Morlino was a righteous proclaimer of truth to those falling away from the Catholic Faith; to his detractors, he was a self-righteous sower of division who drove away many yearning for a relationship with a welcoming God.

The care and nurturing of souls is literally a sacred trust.  While I was firmly among the Bishop’s detractors, I hope for his sake that his view of his mission was the correct one, and if it wasn’t, that a merciful God credits good intentions, even those that yield unfortunate results.

On Bishop Morlino’s Letter, re: Recent Abuse Revelations

Madison Bishop Robert Morlino recently sent a Letter to the faithful of the Madison Diocese, addressing the recent disclosure of the abuse of children and other vulnerable victims throughout Pennsylvania going back decades.  In reading the Letter, I was initially heartened by the vehement tone the Bishop first struck in condemning abuse of children and other victims by the clergy … but then frankly appalled by the manner in which the Bishop pivoted to tie these acts to homosexuality.  I am beyond discouraged that the Bishop — as he has throughout his stay in Madison — has chosen to sow unnecessary and ill-informed divisiveness at a time when those that care about the Church need to come together as a community to address what are poisonous, systemic ills.  For a much more eloquent response to the Bishop’s letter, see the link below, called to my attention by a good friend.

https://callenharty.wordpress.com/2018/08/20/open-letter-to-bishop-morlino/

 

 

Humanae Vitae … and Child Abuse: Part II

If one intends to review this post, but has not yet read Part I (which is immediately below), I would start there.  🙂

I would suggest that to this day, many Cardinals, Bishops, and others in the Church hierarchy seem glaringly detached from the harm caused to the many thousands of children by abusive clergy over the last decades (perhaps centuries) and stunningly oblivious to the visceral reaction that parents have had across the world to the revelations.  It has seemed to me that from the first revelations decades ago, the Church’s condemnation of these atrocities has been largely pro forma … curiously antiseptic.  Many in the Leadership clearly appear to believe that if the Church issues suitable expressions of regret when necessary, and keeps its head down, things will return to normal.  They haven’t yet realized:  things are not going to return to normal – at least in their lifetimes.  They literally don’t “get” the visceral effect that these continuing scandals have had on the faithful, and the crippling impact they have had on the Church’s credibility.

Pope Paul wrote in Humanae Vitae:  “No member of the faithful could possibly deny that the Church is competent in her magisterium to interpret the natural moral law.”  Only members of the Magisterium apparently fail to recognize that due to these child abuse atrocities and the ensuing cover-ups, many of the faithful do now deeply question the Church’s competence to interpret natural moral law and its claim to moral leadership.

Despite the Church’s professions of love for the children, why did Church leaders all the way to the Vatican (that it reached the Vatican is no longer disputed) go to such lengths to cover up what has happened?

In Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul addressed priests as follows:  “[B]eloved sons … you who in virtue of your sacred office act as counselors and spiritual leaders ….”  He addressed Bishops, “… We turn Our mind to you, reverently and lovingly, beloved and venerable brothers in the episcopate ….” [My italics].

Our mothers all taught us:  actions speak louder than words.  It’s hard not to suppose that they covered up because their visceral reaction was to protect the Church and the brotherhood of priests – these were their family.  Who turns in his son? Brother?  Organization for which he has labored a lifetime?  They seem not to have heeded Matthew 18:6:  “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea …”

Ironically, August 15 – the day after the latest abuse revelations — is the Holy Day celebrating the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven, during which the Church waxes rhapsodically about the Blessed Mother’s devotion to the Lord.  I’m confident … she gets it.

A few closing thoughts to these long notes:

I am absolutely certain that the vast majority of priests do their best to serve God and the faithful.  There is no man on earth I respect more than Pope Francis.  I feel deeply for the burden that these devout clergy carry as a result of the actions of their fellow priests.  I hope – notwithstanding the fact that the abuse appears to have been rampant throughout the Church – that many had no inkling of what was going on.  For those that did know, had no authority to act, and didn’t speak:    John 8:7:  “… Let him who is without sin among you be the first to cast a stone ….”  I wasn’t in their place; assessment here seems to me best left beyond the earthly realm.

Something even the most steadfast members of the Church hierarchy would probably agree with me about:  that those that conspired to cover up these instances of abuse in order to protect the Church suffered – ironically – from insufficient faith.  The Church didn’t need their “protection.”  Matthew 16:18:  “And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

After reading this, one might ask why I remain a practicing Catholic.  Because as imperfect as its leadership can sometimes be, it remains for me … the gateway to the Almighty (I believe that there are many gateways, in and outside the bounds of Christianity; it is just that this is mine).  My feelings are best described by a character in The Vicar of Christ, one of the three best novels I have ever read:  “The Pope is the Vicar of Christ, the symbol of the universal Church.  To whom could I now turn in my old age?”