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Saturday, April 19, 2014

The Fall of Saint Peter's

It begins with a single ominous crack which appears high overhead in the arched roof. For a few moments all is still, and it seems as if nothing further will happen, and that this negligible damage will be confined to nothing that a plasterer could not fix. But these few silent moments are the calm before the storm. Another snaking crack appears, and another, as the monolithic building is hastily evacuated. Then with a noise like gunshots most of the roof gives way, sliding in a welter of dust and crumbling masonry to the cold marble floor below…

The Fall of Saint Peter's
Supposing that there was an institution whose influence was as wide as the world. Supposing that, to achieve that influence and to consolidate its dominance on the stage of history, this institution had slaughtered [1]millions. Supposing that to further silence any dissenting voices, it had initiated a [2]body drawn from its own ranks which imprisoned and tortured both men, women and children, and that this body had continued its practices, not for months, nor even for years, but for long centuries. And supposing that those within its hierarchy had been, and continue to be, responsible through sexual abuse for ruining thousands of the young lives of those entrusted to its care, and that these perpetrators enjoy the [3]tacit protection of the very hierarchy to which they themselves belong. Now suppose that this institution presumes to found itself upon the rock of religious moral values, and continues to flourish even today.

“Though the mills of God grind slowly;
Yet they grind exceeding small;
Though with patience he stands waiting,
With exactness grinds he all.” 

…wrote Henry Wordsworth Longfellow in his poem Retribution. My above painting is not so much a fanciful prophesy as what I see as a future inevitability. But the painting is also a metaphor, an image of justice come home, and in that sense is real enough. And if the Sistine Chapel with its iconic writhing frescoes of plodding scriptural literalism is destroyed along with it, then you will see a smile on my face.

[1] The Record of History: Do not think to protest that this is an exaggeration. This total collectively includes Gnostics, Cathars (Cathar mortality at the hands of Papal forces accounts for one million deaths alone), Waldensians, Manichaeans, Paulicians, Templars and those of any denominational faith or any individuals which the Papal office perceived as a threat to its own power base. There can be no denying what already has happened, what already is a part of recorded history.

[2] The Inquisition: Originally founded in the 12th-century and run by the Dominican brotherhood, the Inquisition (left), which was little more than repressed sexual sadism and pseudo-pious sanctimony masquerading as a watchdog of the faith, persisted in one form or another up until as late as the 18th-century, making any belief which it decided was a heresy punishable by death - and at times even beyond death, with the Inquisition even exhuming the bodies of the accused and putting the corpses on trial: a grim legal ploy which allowed the assets of their surviving family to be seized by the Church authorities. The Inquisition as an institutionalized Church body survives even today under the pretentiously-titled Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Holy Office. As Voltaire dryly observed, the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.

[3] Targets for Excommunication: Archbishop Desmond Tutu has stated that tacit inaction in the presence of injustice is to participate actively in that injustice. Were the Papal office to assert its moral authority (assuming that it has any) and vigorously excommunicate the offending pedophile priests, it would send a clear message to others. It does not do so, being content in many such cases merely to shuffle the offenders from diocese to diocese, which only relocates the crime and offers potential new victims to the perpetrators. Rather, it targets for excommunication such individuals as Father Roy Bourgeois (right), who already had devoted over four decades of his life to his church. Father Bourgeois’ unforgivable offence? Proposing the ordination of women as priests.

How Saint Peter's was built: It is worth noting that the building of Saint Peter's was originally paid for by the sale of indulgences: the corrupt buying-off of worldly sins by individuals making payments to priests and others in the Church hierarchy. Source: The Role of Indulgences in the Building of New Saint Peter’s Basilica (2011): Ginny Justice, Master of Liberal Studies thesis, Rollins College.

Stop Press: Today's news carries the announcement that, having been fast-tracked with near-breakneck haste to sainthood, John Paul II (left) is due to be canonized on 27th of this month. This is the man who during his papacy refused to sign a document formally pardoning Giordano Bruno, and who also during the same term of office wrote an apostolic letter denying women the right to hold any positions of rank within the Church hierarchy: a judgement which the letter concludes is to be 'definitively held'. In other words: forever.

Note added April 28, 2014: Now that the event mentioned in my stop press has taken place, I'll add that the Church body named in note [2] above as being the contemporary equivalent of the Inquisition was run during John Paul II's term of office by... yes... Cardinal Ratzinger, who succeeded him as Pope Benedict XVI. 

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