“The Death of a Pontificate” by Aldo Maria Valli
Empty square and exhausted rituals: The Death of a Pontificate
Aldo Maria Valli
The image speaks for itself. A Wednesday general audience. An empty square. Only a few dozen people. All right, it’s raining. But once upon a time, when it rained, the square became a sea of umbrellas.
The image is bleak, and the Vatican media, starting with the TV center, no longer know how to hide the fact: no one goes to listen to Francis. They try to make up for it with close-ups, indeed very closed-up images, somewhat like the Polish TV did with John Paul II on his visit to his homeland. But if, in the case of Polish television, the problem was hiding the crowds flocking to Wojtyła, in the Vatican the problem is the opposite: hiding the embarrassing gaps.
This pontificate is dying like this, of starvation. Begun with so much hope, it is running out of steam in a general lack of interest. These are things that happen when the Church follows the world. Because the world is always one step ahead, and the Church simply becomes pathetic when it pretends to go in tow.
In the meantime, it’s raining inside the Vatican basilica. Infiltrations just about everywhere, even in the archives. Of course, managing such a large asset is not easy, but for a long time the maintenance has been — literally — leaking. Witnesses say cleaning also leaves something to be desired. In the absence of papal celebrations, St. Peter’s increasingly resembles a museum in a growing state of neglect. And things are no better at Castel Gandolfo, where the popes’ palace, no longer used as a residence, has become for all intents and purposes a museum and is beginning to suffer from all the problems typical of such places (including a recent fire).
In the meantime, the synod participants, gathered around their tables, talk, talk, and talk. A kind of grand dance of words on the deck of the sinking Titanic. Nothing wrong with talking, mind you. The problem is that the participants seem to be moving on another planet than that of actual reality. The Church agonizes, the faithful flee, vocations disappear, but the Synodists live in a world of their own. Like all apparatchiks, party officials, they belong to a closed caste whose only purpose is the perpetuation of itself.
In the meantime, another book is coming out with yet another interview with the pope. In the meantime, we are told that the synod prayed for migrants and refugees. In the meantime, they take care to let us know that, “some poor people at Santa Marta had lunch with the pope.” Churches always need rituals and these are the exhausted rituals of the dying “Church of Francis.”