This is me, Eccles

This is me, Eccles
This is me, Eccles

Thursday 29 October 2015

How to train as a theologian

Ross Douhat, a New York Times columnist, has rightly been condemned by lots of very clever and saintly Catholics for daring to write about "The Plot to change Catholicism" despite having "no professional qualifications for writing about the subject". For those who missed the attack on Mr Douhat, here is a copy of the humble and modest letter produced by Fr John O' Malley SJ, Professor Massimo Faggioli and a few others. It is also backed by Fr James Martin SJ, so you know it must be good.

Letter to NYT

They have a point of course. The reason that so few Catholics take the words of Jesus Christ seriously is that - to His shame - He never managed to get any theological qualifications. Come to think of it, He worked with his father as a carpenter without even getting a B.A. in hammering-nails-into-pieces-of-wood, so it's no wonder that none of His tables and chairs survive to this day.

But then a shocking thought struck me. As you all know, I write a spiritually nourishing religious blog, but some of my readers may have been misled into thinking it has the same authority as the writings of Professor Maximal Bean and his Jesuit friends. So I decided to remedy this.


How could I resist?

Luckily there are Nigerian websites where you can get a Ph.D. in theology (specialising in Ignatian Discernment, Human Flourishing, and Liturgical Dancing) just by giving them your bank account details. So I did this, and now I can call myself Dr Massimo Eccles SJ, and be sure that my words are authoritative. I suspect that this is also how Richard Dawkins (who of course already had a Ph.D. on chicken-behaviour, which allowed him to write authoritative letters to the New York Times about chickens) suddenly became a renowned theologian.

According to Cardinal Vincent Nichols (yes, really), the key words used by the recent Synod were "accompaniment”, “walking with”, “reverential listening” and “discernment”. Plus, of course "mercy". I'm so glad they got away from things like sin, forgiveness, redemption and salvation, which (I'm sorry to say) are mentioned by people like St Paul and St John whose academic qualifications were distinctly dodgy.

Gladys Mills

Vincent Nichols and friends celebrate "accompaniment" and "reverential listening".

P.S. If you leave comments on this blog, please also tell us what academic qualifications you have. Comments from the uneducated, like those from the unsaved, may not be published.

Monday 26 October 2015

In praise of Jesuits

Occasionally you will come across people with "religious" initials after their names, most of which indicate that the bearer is a saintly and wise person leading a life devoted to God: I'm thinking here of OP, OSB, OFM Cap (which is not actually a sort of hat), and similar. But then you come to an odd one, SJ, which to most people conveys about as much saintliness as an OBE. These are the Jesuits.


"Twisted, moi?" A Jesuit in normal (relaxed) mode.

Originally, the Jesuit order was founded by St Ignatius of Loyola, with the general purpose of following the teachings of Jesus Christ. There have been many Jesuit saints, such as Edmund Campion, Francis Xavier... here's a list if you want evidence that some Jesuits are saved. The last one died in 1929.

But somewhere (in fact as early as 1613), "Jesuit" acquired the meaning of deceitful, devious, dodgy, and dissembling. All excellent qualities in a lawyer, but not so good for a holy man. So it's time for us to rehabilitate the Jesuits.

James Martin's mercy

"Nobody expects the Jesuit Inquisition! Our main weapons are fear, surprise and mercy. But only a year of mercy - after that we can go back to our old ways again."

Of course Pope Francis is also a Jesuit, but he confines his Jesuitism to confusing the faithful, so let's move on.

Now Jesuits are very fond of discernment, so many readers will ask, "How do I practise discernment? Is it a martial art, or what?" Well, it's not easy. You need to run a hot bath, preferably with bubbles and a rubber duck. Sit in the bath with a large quantity of reading matter (the books of Cardinal Kasper, some Tablet articles...) until you are thoroughly imbued with the Spirit of Synod '15 (genuflects). Then you will be able to make up know the answers to the fundamental questions of religious belief!


Essential equipment for the ancient art of discernment.

A refinement of this is "Ignatian Discernment". When I first heard of this I thought it was "Ignition Discernment", where you make inflammatory comments in order to annoy people. But no, it simply means that your discernment is a little better than anyone else's, as you have been to "Discernment Classes" and you own your own rubber duck.


Jesuits are also good at spinning.

Another of my favourite Jesuits is Fr Thomas Reese SJ, who writes for that learned theological journal, the National Catholic Reporter. He's another of the ones who felt that Christ had somehow got the wrong ideas about divorce and remarriage. By and large, the Synod gave Christ's teaching a 2/3 vote of confidence, which is good, but this did not downcast Fr Reese. By spinning hard, he managed to persuade some people that the conservatives had lost, that the German Protestants had won, and that the Spirit of Synod '15 (genuflects) would lead the Catholic Church to new and greater depths.

Thomas Reese's mercy

As I said: fear, surprise and mercy.

So, all praise to Jesuits, and a big "Boo!" to all those who says they should not be admitted to Communion along with "normal" Catholics!

Wednesday 21 October 2015

How to be a Good Pope 2

So in Part 1 of this self-help guide we saw your through to election as Pope (thanks to the efforts of the St Wormwood and Gall Mafia, which pushed out your predecessor), and gave some tips on what to wear, what to eat, and where to live. What do you do next?

Benedict XVI and Francis

"And don't forget to feed the papal rabbit!"

Well, you can go on visits to your faithful flock around the world - popes do a lot of that stuff - meeting exciting people such as Castro, Obama, and that communist idiot in Bolivia. Maybe even some Catholics - apparently there are quite a lot of them out there if you look hard enough. But if you go travelling, watch out for journalists! They will do their best to get on the same flight, and they will insist on asking you difficult questions to which you haven't prepared the answers. Make it clear that you are not speaking infallibly, and you will probably change your mind again tomorrow.

Wise popes avoid questions altogether, e.g. by reading the in-flight magazine (yes, I know, dire, isn't it?), pretending to sleep (difficult to maintain for more than about 12 hours), or simply asking the stewardess to move you to another seat. In the latter case you'll probably end up next to a screaming child, but if you can stop the brat from howling, then you'll get the reputation of being a Loving and Sensitive Pope - even if you did pour a whisky down its throat when nobody was looking.

Pope in plane

"Ugh, the in-flight movie's rubbish."

Another things popes are expected to do is to write encyclicals. These are long documents that necessarily contain a lot of waffle but should also have a sting in the tail that is guaranteed to upset non-Catholics. WRITE YOURS IN LATIN. Remember that Latin is the language of the church - not Italian, not Chinese, not even English. If your Latin isn't up to it, get a friend to help, don't rely on Google translate. Pick a snappy Latin title to bring in the punters - Nemo Me Impune Lacessit ("you lookin' for trouble, Jimmy?") would be a good one in the context of war, peace, and "turning the other cheek". Or try Sona Si Latine Loqueris ("Honk if you speak Latin") for an encyclical on the use of Latin in the Mass.

Meanwhile, you will find yourself being pestered by your cardinals. The German ones are the worst, but there are some pretty strange ones in the USA, UK, etc. as well. They will telephone you at 4 a.m. to tell you "I've just thought of this exciting new heresy we could try," hoping that you will be too tired to send them packing. Before you know where you are, you will have agreed to hold a synod just to keep them quiet. But it won't.

Vin and Cormac

"That's agreed then - you phone him at 3.30 a.m. and I'll phone at 4 a.m."

Just hypothetically, suppose that you have agreed to hold a synod on Torture. There may be a lot of pressure for one - the American organization Catholics for Torture is very influential - and so it may be hard to say to them "You're a bunch of idiots. Get lost." Lots of bishops and cardinals would be happy to have a three-week holiday in Rome three weeks of deep and meaningful discussions, rather than having to sit in their boring dioceses serving their flock and protecting it from the wolves.

Some of the synod team will be convinced that Catholic Doctrine on Torture can be changed. If someone keeps his aunt locked up in a cellar, and goes down regularly to stretch her on the rack, should that be a bar to his taking Holy Communion? Or should he abstain from stretching on the day he goes to Mass? Obviously, we can't go so far as to ask him to release her. These are deep waters, and about 1/4 of your synodders will be pressing for complete liberalism here - they're the ones who don't believe in things like sin, redemption, confession, absolution, repentance, etc.

the rack

"I've got to go to Mass now, then write an article for the Tablet, but I'll be back later.

Writing these pieces have convinced me that being pope isn't easy - it's not just kissing people's feet and releasing birds into the air. More on this, later, your Holiness.

ISIS withdraws offer to merge with Amnesty

It was reported exactly a year ago that ISIS (IS, ISIL, Daesh, Satanic State, or whatever you want to call them) had been so impressed by Amnesty International's campaign for killing the weak and helpless that it had proposed a merger. However, following the release of Amnesty's latest video nasty starring Liam Neeson - himself, ironically an actor known for playing Aslan, the Jedi master Qui-Gon Jinn and, er, Jesus Christ in Pilgrim's Progress - the deal has been declared "off" by ISIS's spokesman B. El-Zeebub.

ISIS/Amnesty logo

The proposed AmnISIS logo - now unlikely to be used

"Don't get me wrong, we approve of a lot that Amnesty do," said Mr El-Zebub. "When it comes to slaughtering people, we are mere novices compared with the abortion industry. We did think of offering a merger to Planned Parenthood a few months ago, but when the accountants came to look at our books, they realized we were not competitive in the modern cut and thrust world of selling body parts, and they simply wouldn't accept our business model."

"Merging with Amnesty," he continued, "would have enabled us to register as a charity, and receive donations from the non-Muslim community. We could have opened up clinics in city centres, and invited people to 'plan their families' by dismembering the less popular members. But the deal is off the table now."

Qui-Gon Jinn

Liam Neeson demonstrates a device for slaughtering unwanted family members.

So what went wrong with this "marriage made in Hell"? Apparently, ISIS were overwhelmed by the anti-Christian tone of Amnesty's video nasty. As El-Zebub explained, "We thought nobody disliked Christians more than we do, but Liam Neeson has opened our eyes to what true anti-religious bigotry looks like, and - humbly - we just don't feel we can compete. Everyone to their own, and we'll just go back to cutting heads off in the traditional Islamic way. We'll leave the real nastiness to the experts at Amnesty."

Monday 19 October 2015

How to be a Good Pope

Since it is quite likely that two or three of my readers will end up as Pope one day, it would be helpful to give them some advice how to behave themselves. Otherwise, like a certain Argentinian who must remain nameless, they will go down in history as "A Good Man, but a Bad Pope."

Pope Alexander VI

Pope Alexander VI. A Bad Man but a Good Pope. Possibly.

O.K. So the conclave is over, and Team Thargoglio (a bunch of dodgy cardinals who really ought to have known better) has managed to get you elected. Choose a papal name appropriate for the dignity of your office: so "Pope Custard" is out, but so are "Pope Judas" and "Pope Pontius", even if these are Biblical names. I suggest you choose a previous pope that you greatly admire (perhaps not Peter, as that would be a bit too cheeky), and become the next in line: Pius XIII, John XXIV, Benedict XVII, according to taste. Or you can choose a saint's name that hasn't been used before, e.g. Pope Bosco, but it is a little eccentric.

Vianney and Hartnell

The same goes for Pope John Vianney, alias Pope William Hartnell.

Now, popes are supposed to maintain a tradition that goes back two thousand years, so DON'T rush to change things. You may not like red shoes, but wear them, as they have a significance that you may not have been told about. Don't go and live in some weird place where popes have never lived before, e.g. a simple cardboard box in the catacombs beneath the Vatican: it may give you a reputation for humility, but it may also give you a reputation for being difficult.

cardboard box

A humble pope.

Likewise, if the papal chef is offering to cook you a Lobster Thermidor aux crevettes with a Mornay sauce, garnished with truffle pâté, brandy, and a fried egg on top, and Spam, then it is very rude to slope off down to "Il Nosho de Sid", the Vatican café, for a plate of pasta. Even if it makes you look like "one of the lads".

Pope Francis in canteen

"The chap in white - haven't I seen him on the telly?"

Now popes are supposed to be above petty politics, so don't rush to reward your friends, or to punish your enemies. Saying to a distinguished Cardinal, "Look, Ray, we're having a three-week 'bring a heresy' party next October. All your craziest pals are coming - Cupich, Wuerl, Dolan - but you're not invited" is just rude.

This self-help guide needs to broken up into two or more pieces, so I'll stop there. Just remember, Pope Innocent - or whatever - that you are not there to rewrite doctrine, or to push your favourite theory (whether it's climate change, homeopathic medicine, or the belief that the world's economy is being manipulated by dinosaurs from outer space). Stick to Christian teaching wherever possible, OK?

stegosaurus in London

"Could you direct me to the Stock Exchange, please?"

Oh, and DON'T give impromptu interviews to journalists. They're not to be trusted.

Sunday 18 October 2015

Jesus holds a Synod

Biblical accounts are a little sketchy about this event, but we have found a little-known contemporary document, the Gospel according to St Blase, which tells of the Synod conducted by Our Lord shortly before He sent His disciples out into the world.

George and Cupich

"I'm expecting my successor to die in prison," said Cardinal George to his successor.

According to the Gospel of St Blase, Jesus concluded His moral teaching by saying to His disciples, "Now, of course these are only rough guidelines, and I'm really expecting you to make up your own teachings, as you go forth to preach the Good News. Apostle Judas will provide a 'relatio' to report on your discussions."

"You see, when I told Peter that we were founding a Church, I forgot to mention that it would be synodal in structure. So when the Day of Judgement comes, make sure you bring your passports with you, as the very definitions of Good and Evil will depend on where you came from."

"You, St Matthias, now sitting on the reserve bench, will have the easiest task, as you will be sent to Germany. There you will find that the very notion of sin has been abolished, and all will go to Heaven."

reserved sun-lounger

A vision of Heaven - but the Germans have got there first.

St Blase went on to tell how the apostles agreed to abandon notions of confession, repentance, judgement, or absolution, and replace them with a simple soul-searching test that all must pass when attending church. There was to be a simple liturgy at the beginning of every Mass, along the following lines:

PRIEST: How do you feel?

CONGREGATION: We feel great!

PRIEST: And so do I. Let's party!

Those whose consciences are troubling them, e.g. because they have left the gas on, robbed a bank, or murdered someone, shouldn't worry. After all, we're only human - I do the same sort of thing myself!

Cupich and empty church

St Blase wonders why nobody turned up to the party.

Saturday 17 October 2015

Fraser St Giles to be closed down

Following a remarkable article in the Guardian, proposing a "Beeching axe" to English country churches (Anglican, presumably, although most were formerly Catholic), it has been announced by Network Rail that all train services from Fraser St Giles are to be withdrawn.

Stoke Poges

As Gray's Elegy in a Country Churchyard put it: sorry, we've been closed down.

The prospect of English country churches closing down, and perhaps - as a result of the Vicky Beeching axe - to be replaced by a network of gay-friendly "encounter centres", open to all, including atheists (but NOT Conservatives, of course), is an inviting one.

gay mass

The future for rural English worship.

Meanwhile, is it not in the spirit of England that old ladies should cycle to communion in the morning mist? And if they have to cycle 30 miles to an urban church (the only ones that we should allow!), then we will be breeding a new generation of super-fit old ladies, which must be good for the nation.

Lord Beeching

Giles Fraser explains his new plans for the Anglican church.

Beeching of course was greatly admired for his fearless cuts to rail services. The people in such towns as Gosport, Dunstable, and Otley, for example, never cease to thank their lucky stars that they are not troubled by the noise of trains.

As for Fraser St Giles, well it was a rather unaesthetic station, mainly known for its 7.49 a.m. "thinkers" special and its occasional more substantial "Loose Canon Street" journeys. Often there were problems with services going off the rails, and delays caused by the wrong kind of beliefs on the line. But there are still people prepared to defend this anachronism.

Rail demo

Supporters of Fraser St Giles demonstrate against its planned closure.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

The Pope gets a letter

So, this is instalment three of my bulletins from the synod in Rome. Yesterday, I was invited to tea with Pope Francis, which of course means that I am now the envy of less authoritative commentators such as John Allen Jr, Robert Mickens, Michael Voris, etc., who only got the "consolation prize" of buns with Fr "blocker" Rosica.

Rosica at Vatican

Hello! Fr Rosica welcomes us to his humble home.

"So, how's the synod going, your holiness?" I asked, as I took an Eccles cake to eat.

"Really well, thank you, Eccles," replied the pontiff. "It's good to see so many cardinals and bishops having a good time, debating whether we should carry on with the old Christian stuff, or whether some entirely new approach would be best. So far we've only had two stabbings and a case of poisoning - pretty good, don't you think?"

"Yes, it's all been very amicable," I replied. "I've not seen so many truly holy people collected together in one place since the old days of the Daily Telegraph blogs."

"Still, let me show you something," said Pope Francis, enthusiastically, picking up a letter from the table. I could see that it was a messy, scribbled affair, slightly torn, and with several crossings-out.

Cardinal 23

"Good moaning!"

At that moment the door burst open and Cardinal Vingt-et-Un of Paris burst in. "Where ees zee letter?" he demanded. "Give me ze letter!" He snatched the letter from the Pope's hand, saying, "I did not mean to sign zees, mon vieux," and promptly crossed out his signature. "Rien ne va plus," he continued enigmatically, and rushed out.

I could see that the letter began something like: "To the Pope. Dear Sir or Madam, we think Kasper's a nutter, Danneels a creep, and Baldisseri a fraud. What are you going to do about it?" I was not able to read more when Cardinal Pell burst in, pulling along Cardinal Dolan by his ear to cries of "Ow! Leggo! Yarooh! Beast!"

"Sign the letter, cobber!" shouted Pell, "or I'll pull your ears off and make you eat them." Dolan hastily added his name to the letter, and the two of them left, Pell giving Dolan a parting kick up his ample backside.

Dolan with arms raised

"I surrender!"

The Pope shrugged his shoulders, and watched as other cardinals burst in. Napier added a few lines to the letter, Scola crossed them out again, and Nichols asked "Er, did I sign it or not? I can't remember."

"This letter's something of a 'working document', isn't it, your holiness?" I asked. "Won't it be even harder to get the cardinals to agree on the final report of the synod?"

"Oh, no problem with that," said Pope Francis. "Baldisseri wrote that several months ago. You'll see - everyone will be happy..."

Vin with headphones

Vincent Nichols switches off and listens to some music instead.

Sunday 11 October 2015

A guide to Britain, part 2

Continued from Part 1.

In the first part of this "Guide for foreigners", we introduced various mostly well-known religious figures such as Queen Elizabeth and Richard Dawkins. This time we are focusing on three slightly less well-known people, who are nevertheless a regular source of entertainment and possible spiritual nourishment.

To put them in context, I decided to pair them with well-known Biblical characters that have clearly inspired them.

St Paul and Gollum

Dr Giles Fraser (L) and St Paul (R)

As well as being something of a Gollum lookalike, St Paul was a controversial figure, who upset many more traditional Christians with his radical views. His regular articles, entitled "Epistle to the Guardianistas" were full of unconventional teaching supporting same-sex "marriage". He was also known to think a deep thought once a day, and so his "Thought for the Day" was broadcast throughout 1st Century Judaea. Apart from being a full-time socialist, he was also regarded as a part-time religious figure.

Beattie and Mary

The Blessed Virgin Mary (L) and Prof. Tina Beattie (R)

It is an established fact that Mary rejected the male-dominated hegemony of the early Church. "My Son was a celibate male, and so He got things off on the wrong foot straight away," she regularly complained. Mary was a very learned woman, directing the Institute for Religion, Society and Human Flourishing [or "having a good time"] at the University of Galilee. Unfortunately her extreme views meant that several bishops refused to have anything to do with her, although she maintained all her life that she was a Catholic.

King David and Terry-Thomas

Paul Inwood (L) and King David (R)

King David is mainly remembered as a lyricist, providing the words and music to the memorable psalms "Alleluia Ch-Ch" and "Prepare the way of the Lord, Moo-oo-oo, Moo-oo-oo". His music sold many copies in dioceses along the south coast, and can still be found in some hymn books. He bitterly resented re-translations of the traditional liturgy. It is said that David danced before the Lord wearing a linen ephod: no wonder Nathan the prophet was sent to tell him of God's extreme wrath.

liturgical dance

The latest in linen ephods.

Sunday at the Synod

We don't normally do two consecutive blog posts on the same subject, but as the only reliable (and saved) English-speaking reporter at the Synod in Rome, I have been asked to keep people up to date.

So, it is Sunday, and many of the cardinals, bishops and hangers-on decided to go to church. Last week, we had a real problem with the Gospel, and the bits about divorce being a bad thing were only just passed by a 2/3 majority; even then, Cardinal Kasper sat through the Gospel pulling faces and rolling his eyes.

Today's problematic reading was about the problems of excessive wealth, and as it happened we had Cardinal Marx preaching on this. The way he told it was: Remember that it is easier for a rich man to pass through the eye of a needle, than it is for a camel to, er..., than it is for a camel to!* It seems that this is the version approved by the German Bishops' Conference.

*Epigram stolen from Rowan Williams Atkinson, I think.

a camel

"I'm not even going to try this needle trick."

Since Cardinal Baldisseri had removed all the Bibles, we were unable to check that these were actually the original words,

Earlier, there was an embarrassing scene at the Synod when Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher of Gatineau spoke out, saying that the Synod should reflect on the possibility of ordaining women as deacons. Mutterings of "Isn't that the topic of next year's synod?" and "I think his personal organizer's on the blink" went round the room. He was eventually reminded why we were here, and other participants were advised that whingeing about the translations of the liturgy was also off-topic, and they'd have to continue saying "communion of the Holy Spirit" and "consubstantial" for another year or two.

Archbishop Paul-Andre Durocher

"Hello, which synod is this, exactly?"

Finally, I noticed that I was being followed around by a burly-looking man called Tommy Rosica, who kept taking notes. I thought he was merely a journalist, but it turns out that he is also a Catholic priest in his spare time. So I went up to him and said "Morning, Father, I'm feeling particular saved this morning."

He replied, "Are you on Twitter? In that case, you're blocked!"

Apparently he offers the "block of Peace" to all who get in his way, much like the British politician George Galloway. These two spiritual giants should meet some time for a "Block thine enemies" session.

Rosica and Pope Francis

"Little does @pontifex know that I've just blocked him."

LATE NEWS. Cardinal Péter Erdő has been found bound and gagged in his bedroom, apparently to stop him from doing any more "Relatio" stuff. My Italian is a bit rusty, but the police say the prime suspect is a baldisseri, which my new friend Tommy Rosica tells me means "a bald man". But when they have their hats on, it's very hard to work out which of the cardinals is bald...

Thursday 8 October 2015

News from the Synod

The Synod on the Family has been going very well this week, but the reports you are getting from people like Fr Rosica of Sue and Litigate Salt and Light are not really getting to grips with the full knockabout excitement that we are experiencing, probably because, unlike me, he doesn't have a red hat, and so can't get fully involved with what the senior people are doing.

We were told that this was an occasion for "dialogue" and our cardinals (and others) have definitely been putting this into practice. Cries of "heretic", "weasel", "bigot" and "worm" reverberated through the Vatican on the first day, and when the reporters came to ask us how things were going we kept a straight face and said that our discussions were "amicable".

Cardinal Kasper

After someone emptied a bucket of water on him out of a window, Cardinal Kasper was taking no chances.

Every evening a group of us go to the Cardinal bar, to relax and unwind after a hard day's rewriting Catholic doctrine. We used to play a drinking game, called "Cardinal Puff", as seen on Dad's Army - Cardinal Pell usually wins, as Australians are more used to hard drinking than the rest of us. However it was condemned as "homophobic" by Cardinal Baldisseri, so we gave up playing it.

Chilling out with Pell, Müller, Napier and the lads.

Instead we had a competition, "Guess the weight of Cardinal Dolan", and I won 100 euros. To end the proceedings we debagged Cardinal Danneels and threw him into the Tiber. Well, he deserved it, but it was a bit unpleasant for the fishes.

The next day, after a long session of amicable debate (one cardinal knocked out cold, another taken to hospital with stab wounds, and a third one now hobbling around on crutches), a certain English cardinal, who must remain anonymous, invited us all to a "gay mass" at his titular church, the Chiesa di Sant'Alfonso di Liguori all'Esquilino, but we persuaded him to put it off to a later date. Instead we celebrated the forthcoming "Year of Mersey" by going down to the pub again, and singing Cilla Black songs. They're all pretty welcoming to those with alternative lifestyles, especially "Anyone who had a heart", "Step inside, love", "The other woman" and "Love's just a broken heart".

No gay mass here for the time being.

We're expecting Tina Beattie to turn up at any time, possibly as part of a topless Femen-style demonstration, as she's very annoyed that so many celibate males are discussing Catholic doctrine. It seems that she has problems with the teachings of celibate males, which is a bit awkward for someone who claims to be a Christian.

We have tried to persuade dear Tina that the lovely Cardinal Sarah is in fact a woman, but she is not convinced. Still less, that my own adopted Cardinal Poli is female. In fact, he or she spends all day drawing caricatures of Walter Kasper on the synod agenda, so it's a Poli-Wally-doodle all the day.

Pope Francis and Cardinal Baldisseri

"And here's a list of books missing from the Vatican library."

Anyway, the third day's synodding was much like the others (perhaps a bit nastier - we had to call the Swiss Guard in several times to break up fights involving the German cardinals). Our pub visits are quieter now that Cardinal Kasper has been barred for being too rowdy - the landlord thinks that sticking straws in your hair, dancing on the table, and singing "Don't laugh at me 'cause I'm a fool" isn't really conduct worthy of a prince of the Church.

Meanwhile, some of us have been invited round to Pope Francis's apartment for tea tomorrow - at this stage I am not sure whether we'll get something nourishing, or whether it will just be fudge.

Sunday 4 October 2015

The parable of the wheat and the tares

There was a man who sowed good cardinal seed in his field: among the numerous varieties planted there were Burkeus Cappamagnificus, a traditional American grain, Pellus Boomerangus, a robust Australian variety, and Mueller Fortis, one of the few reliable German plants; but there were other spiritually nourishing varieties too numerous to mention.

But then while men were asleep, an enemy came and sowed tares (cockle, darnel) among the wheat, and went his way.

tares or darnel

Warning - contains nuts!

Among the poisonous grains were the German weed, Kasperus Absurdus, guaranteed to induce dizzy spells, Danneelus Pervertophilus, the toxic Belgian variety, not to mention the dreaded Baldisserius Liberraptor, and Marxus Stultusbarbus the hideous German creeper. And alas, there were many others.

So when the blade was sprung up, and had brought forth fruit, then appeared also the tares.

And the servants of the good man came to him and said, "Sir, did you not sow good seeds in the field? Where did the weeds come from?"

And he said to them, "An enemy has done this." And the servants said to him, "Do you want us to gather up the weeds?"

"No," said the man, "I have a better idea. We will allow both to grow until the time of the Synod, and then we will harvest them together."

 burning the tares

Synod time!

"At the harvest, we'll gather the tares, and bind them into bundles for burning (the CDF tells me we're still allowed to do this); but the good wheat we'll keep. But just to make it more fun, we'll get the wheat and the tares to spend three weeks voting on which of them is the true harvest, and which the poisonous weeds."

We are not sure what happened next.

Saturday 3 October 2015

Wake up, Poli, I've got a nice cuttlefish for you!

During the 2013 papal conclave, I was invited to adopt a cardinal, and I was assigned Marc Ouellet, a generally orthodox and mostly-saved prince of the church. It was rather a love-hate relationship: I did my Christian duty and loved him - e.g. I sent him little gifts, such as Eccles cakes and old socks, and I made telephone calls at 4 a.m. to check that he was O.K. - and he obviously hated my attentions (telling me to jump in the Tiber).

Anyway, comes another crisis, comes another opportunity for Eccles to be helpful. We were invited to adopt a synod father. The idea seems to be that this time it's not a matter of pushing your man onto the throne of St Peter, more a matter of making sure he doesn't do any backsliding during the synod.

Mario Poli

The lucky synod father - Mario Aurelio Poli.

So this time I was randomly assigned Mario Aurelio Poli, the Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires, and successor of Jorge Bergoglio alias Pope Francis. Clearly, a man very much in the mould of the pope, which means that nobody really knows what he thinks about anything.

It could have been much harder - I know someone who was allocated Walter Kasper, and his response was "Crikey, there's a tall order." Whereas keeping my man Poli on track may just involve prayer, it seems that to stop Kasper from disgracing himself probably requires a full novena, a long period of fasting, and perhaps the use of incense and holy water - or it may be simpler just to handcuff him to his bed until the show is over. The same goes for Cardinal Danneels, except that we'd want to throw away the key.

Poli and Kirchner

Cristina Kirchner wonders who exactly it is she's talking to.

Anyway, I got in touch with Cardinal Poli, explaining that I would be dropping round for tea, and very wittily told him "Poli, put the kettle on!" Mysteriously, the telephone went dead at that point.

Well, it seems that Poli is pretty much guaranteed to, er, parrot the pope's views. However, since nobody seems to know what these are, this is not much help. Still, Mario, if you'd like to pop round for some spiritual nourishment, and a bit of wise advice from a saved person, I have found just the place for us to go for a drink.

Eccles Tap

No "liberal" or "modernist" beers, please!

Thursday 1 October 2015

Pope meets "gay marriage" bigot

The world was in a state of shock today, after it was revealed that during his American trip Pope Francis had had a personal meeting with someone whose extreme views on same-sex marriage have made them a hate-figure throughout the civilised world.

"He may look like a friendly uncle, but he has disgraced himself."

Said one commentator, "I was really looking forward to the pope's visit to the USA, and in fact I thought that this might even be a good occasion to become a Catholic. But after I heard about Pope Francis's meeting with Barack Obama, I realized that I could not be a member of a church led by someone who was capable of talking to people like that."

The pope's secret meeting with Barack Obama.

Other commentators rushed into print. John Allen Jr, of Crux, said, "Only time will tell what the significance of this meeting really is, so I'm going to write a long article explaining that nobody knows what it's all about." In the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Winters dashed off a hard-hitting piece demanding an explanation of why the pope had been allowed to meet people without his permission.

Meanwhile, everyone agrees that it was a good move for the pope to have met Kim Davis, the heroine of Kentucky. She was clearly a much more interesting person than Obama, who had spent his entire meeting with the pope in droning on about golf and taking selfies.