Thursday, October 09, 2008

Gretel's Last Stand

According to the wildest exponent of the traditionalist fringe -- and, well, that's saying something in itself -- today marks a half-century since the chair of Peter was last occupied by the Pope.

Still, you've gotta hand it to 'em, Papa Pacelli sure had flair...

...and vision: the Fatima "Miracle of the Sun" was encored for him in the Vatican Gardens. On four separate occasions.

The Master of the Curia both before and after his election -- following the 1944 death of his lone Secretary of State, Luigi Maglione, Pius sought to fill the role himself and never bothered to name a replacement -- the wartime pontiff spent his tragic last years isolated by the cocoon of an inner circle that served to hobble the papacy and put the church on autopilot... so lastly, from the archives, an account of his closest aide's departure from the Vatican after his death:

A friend mentioned one of the many stories of Eugenio Pacelli's controversial confidant, Mother Pasqualina Lehnert, often referred to even now by her nickname behind the walls: "La Papessa" -- "The Popess."
Pius' undisputed gatekeeper, de facto private secretary -- and, so it's said, mother-figure -- Lehnert, who had been at the career diplomat's side since his stint as nuncio in Berlin, exercised influence of a then-unprecedented kind in the papal apartment -- and, by extension, over the Roman Curia. Such was the prelatial fury over said clout that, within minutes of the committal of her protector's body to its tomb (the instant when, in the bygone etiquette of the pontifical court, its members lost their honors and privileges until the Apostolic See was refilled), the Cardinal-Dean Eugene Tisserant ordered la Madre (who, in reality, was never entitled to the maternal honorific, but assumed it anyway) to depart the Vatican by nightfall.

Heading out by cab, a photo was said to be taken of Pasqualina riding away, but not without company; by her side was Pius' beloved goldfinch, Gretel, perched in its cage.