Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Piece of the Month

OK, for the benefit of those late to the party, here's the article everyone's talking about right now.... And it's got enough in it to keep mouths running (and the tongues of dilettantes wagging) for weeks.

Paul Elie writes in the current issue of the Atlantic on "The Year of Two Popes."

Run out of your house, find the closest high-brow newsstand or B&N, and buy it. It's worth the five bucks. Don't walk -- RUN.

I was forwarded the text earlier and have gotten numerable e.mails about it since. And it just shines, it sings -- Allen smokes, the Romans spin and even the Amato Papa Roberto Mickens gets a word in edgewise. Elie's dead-on with his analysis, mostly as he's saying a lot of things I've been saying for months. (After all, who compared CDF and Stato to the Red Sox and the Yankees last 29 June? You're welcome. And I did it for free.)

Elie caught my eye in a piece he had written early last year for the Atlantic, before the interregnum. He was commenting on all the preliminary buzz which surrounded the succession, and the "desirable" qualities being spoken of almost exclusively in terms of ethnicity, age, ideological leanings, etc. Cutting right through that, he asked the one, unspoken question which meant everything: What about holiness? Like the current piece, it was quite noteworthy.

Of course, however, I must register a correction of some significance to the piece because, well, there was one glaring inaccuracy that sticks in my craw.

In Elie's rendering of John Paul's opening of the Holy Door at St. Paul Outside the Walls -- an event which took place on 18 January 2000 to coincide with the opening of the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity -- the writer says that, "John Paul had invited George Carey, the archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion, to join him. The two leaders approached the holy door, each clad in cope and miter and carrying a crozier, the hooked walking stick that symbolizes the bishop's role as shepherd of the faithful. John Paul opened the door, and they strode through side by side."

First off, as the picture above can testify, Carey was vested in the choir dress of the Church of England -- cassock, rochet and stole -- not a cope, mitre or crozier in sight on George Cantuar. The Vatican people would have sooner cloaked the Door in macrame', dyed-green mac-and-cheese and multicolor Christmas lights than let an Anglican parade around in a patriarchal basilica wearing pontificals, i.e. Big Roman No-No, and how an error of the sort slipped through the writing and editing processes when photos are easily available proving otherwise boggles the imagination.

Second, Elie completely left out the presence of Metropolitan Athanasios, pictured at right, the delegate of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople. (Don't get too excited, but that's where the orthodox people are from.) The opening of the door at St. Paul's was meant to be projected as a pan-Christian gesture. As it was the final opening of the Holy Doors of the major basilicas (John Paul opened St. Peter's on Christmas Eve, the Lateran on Christmas night and St. Mary Major on New Year's Day of the Jubilee Year), the presence of Carey and Athanasios symbolized that Christian Unity -- under the primacy of the Pope, of course -- remained the Final Threshold to be achieved.

Speaking of mixing Anglican pontificalia and Roman custom, it's a fitting moment to remind everyone that when Rowan Williams, Carey's successor in the chair of St. Augustine, met with John Paul II not long after his enthronement in Canterbury in 2003, the Pope's gift to Rowan was a pectoral cross. John Paul had already sent Archbishop Williams one on his appointment, and Williams arrived at the Apostolic Palace for his audience wearing the first cross given him by the late Pope and the episcopal ring which Paul VI took off his own finger to give Archbishop Michael Ramsey, Williams' predecessor in England's primatial See, in 1966.