PRELUDE TO MURDER
The Bishop of Rome approached the small wooden door hidden in a storage room of Casa Santa Marta, the residence of visiting clerics. He guessed the tiny door could easily be mistaken for a storage cabinet — it was no larger than 2 feet wide by 5 feet tall. There was nothing to identify it but he knew its name. It was called Cancello del Paradiso; and it was off limits to everyone except for him and the gardeners. He inserted his key into the escutcheon and heard the lock tumble as he turned the key. The door bounced open an inch. He replaced the key in his pocket and pulled the door open.
Beyond the doorway lay the lush gardens that were provided for his personal use. It was there for him to meditate, to be with God. He bent his head slightly and stepped sideways through the doorway to preserve the cleanliness of his cassock. His housekeeper would give him ‘the look’ over the rims of her glasses should he dirty it intentionally. When he reached the other side, he left the door ajar as he had asked one of the sisters to bring tea.
He sighed as he turned and gazed upon the beauty of the garden. While he was here, he would leave behind the heavy burdens of the position he held as head of the Catholic Church, and become, for a few moments, Raffaele Vincenzo Valentini again, the simple man of God he had been before accepting his destiny as Pontiff.
As he moved toward the bubbling fountain at the center of the garden, he noticed the figure of a priest sitting quietly on one of the benches. He thought this was odd, seeing the door had been locked and there was no other entrance or exit within the garden. He approached the figure from behind. Before he could say anything, the priest sensed his presence, got up and turned to Raffaele. He was about to genuflect when Pontiff waved his hand, “None of that.”
Raffaele paused in front of the priest and looked deeply into the beautiful face of this young man. He felt a spiritual quality emanating from him the likes of which he had never experienced from anyone else. Though it was still April and the flowering plants in the garden were dormant, he noticed the distinct perfume of roses and other flowers surrounding him. He smiled at the priest. The priest smiled back.
Finally, Raffaele asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”
“My name is Frederick Monahan. Please call me Freddie, and I’ve come to talk with you.”
Raffaele knew immediately who was standing before him. He was speechless as he tried to grasp what was happening.
“Perhaps you would care to sit, Holy Father.”
“Raffaele, please, and yes, that is an excellent idea.” They settled on a semicircular stone bench which allowed them to face one another in comfort.
As they sat in silence, small birds began to gather about the fountain to drink of its water. Two of them flew over and landed on Freddie’s knee. He put his hand out and one of the little birds jumped onto his hand. "Looks like a Black Capped Chickadee.” He held it up to eye level. "Hi there, little guy.” Freddie crooned to the bird. Then another flew up and landed on his hand, next to the first. “Must be its mate.” Four more flew from the fountain and managed to get on Freddie’s hand. They squawked with their beaks open and their wings fluttering. Raffaele and Freddie laughed at the antics of these small, beautiful birds. “Looks like the whole family is on my hand.”
“It does indeed.” Raffaele was all smiles.
Freddie finally raised his hand and sent them on their way. Another bird landed on Freddie’s shoulder. He could not see it properly and asked Raffaele, who he knew was a birder, for identification of the small creature. Raffaele moved closer to Freddie for a better view. "It looks like a Thrush, but I can’t identify it exactly."
Soon the bubbling fountain was populated with all varieties of small birds. Raffaele blossomed with the opportunity of identifying them. A sparrow lighted on his cassock. He extended his finger and it hopped on. "Just a Common House Sparrow, but what a beauty."
Freddie had another bird land on his leg. "I’m not sure what this is,” he looked to Raffaele.
“I’m pretty sure it’s a Black Throated Sparrow. I’ve never seen one around here before,” he laughed with delight.
The comradery between these men opened the door to the serious conversation that was about to follow. Their play with the birds was interrupted when Sister Mary Paul brought the tray of tea Raffaele had asked for earlier. She was surprised to see Raffaele with another priest as she set the tray down and withdrew quietly, closing the door to the garden as she left.
They drank their tea in silence. Then Raffaele opened the conversation. “I know who you are, Freddie. I don’t know all the details, but I can imagine that coming to visit with me was not arrived at by a chance decision. Would you care to explain yourself?”
“You’re absolutely correct, Raffaele. There are many of us who are concerned about the current status of the Catholic Church. To be quite blunt, it’s bleeding to death. If something isn’t done immediately to stop the hemorrhaging, it will die. The point of no return has not been reached at least not yet. It is prudent, however, that you begin now, regardless of the opposition you may encounter, before it becomes too late. And you must remember that you are not alone. There are many who will champion the causes you set into motion. Their support and influence, though unseen, will be far reaching. And, there is no use denying that there will be opposition to the changes you institute, even danger to your personal safety. You will be responsible for unseating those in an institution that has grown out of control because of lax oversight by your predecessors. Some, I fear, may take steps I do not wish to contemplate.”
“I realize what you are saying, Freddie. Please be assured that my personal safety is of no importance to me.”
“Well, it is of importance to us, my friend. Please realize that we are not capable of interfering in any way on a personal level should the unthinkable be perpetrated.
“Unfortunately, you are the only one who can institute these changes. Without you, it will collapse, and be worse than it is now. You told reporters, shortly after you were nominated, that the church does not have a political nature, but a spiritual one, that the Holy Spirit guides the church. Well, you were wrong, dead wrong.” Raffaele sat up straight and looked into Freddie’s eyes as if he were the devil himself.
Freddie recognized Raffaele’s silent protest, “Anytime you wish me to leave, just say the word. I have no intentions of mincing words with you on these matters. Either you believe what I’m saying, or you don’t. There will be no debate.”
Raffaele sighed and settled down.
“The only way the Holy Spirit can have any effect upon the physical plane is through individuals dedicating themselves to meditation and communion with Deity. You are one of them. And you would be wise to seek out and gather together those within the Church who are doing the same or need your guidance in attaining that state of blessed communion. And don’t delude yourself, there are very few. Greed, self-interest, and ignorance of the Truth have all but taken over the Catholic Church. It is your responsibility to turn the tide, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here – to help.”
Freddie could tell Raffaele was feeling the impact of what he was saying. He paused but he was not finished, “You also said on that occasion that no one can understand the church without understanding its spiritual purpose. Just what is the spiritual purpose, Raffaele? You must clarify that purpose in your mind and begin retraining those within the church who have lost touch with that purpose.”
Raffaele got up and adjusted his cassock, “I need to walk. Please, join me.” He turned and slowly began walking along one of the many pathways in the garden. Freddie trailed behind him for a minute before catching up with him. They walked together in silence.
Raffaele began the conversation again, “On the day of the election, when the vote rose over the 77 votes needed to be elected, Cardinal Hummes hugged me, kissed me, and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor.’ I believe that’s when I decided to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves, and protects creation — with which we currently do not have such a good relationship.
“How my heart aches to have a church that is poor and for the poor. I did not realize at the time how difficult it would be to achieve that goal. The little that I have done is hardly worth mentioning.” He stopped on the pathway and turned to Freddie. “There is so much to be done. Tell me where you think I should begin.”
Freddie’s heart leapt when he heard those words. That was the opening he had been waiting for. He put his arm through Raffaele’s and they continued to walk in silence. Eventually, “There are many things I wish to talk. But please, remember, even though you will not always see me, I will be with you ever step of the way until victory is achieved. Right now, your heart is the church, and we must do everything possible to spread the flame that emanates from your heart.”
Raffaele took Freddie’s hand and kissed it. “Thank you for saying that. I feel so strongly what you are say and at the same time I wonder if it is evident to anyone else.” They walked for a while and finally settled on a bench in the corner of the garden against one of its walls. “You mentioned bleeding to death earlier.”
“Yes, and the root cause is this man-made law of celibacy. The diminishing number of priests in the church has become critical. More young men are leaving than are entering the service of the Church. It has been said that this discipline is a gift from the church. Well, it is not. It’s a curse. And I think you know that as well as I do.”
“True celibacy is a gift from God. When an individual has evolved spiritually to a point where the need for anything in this world is no longer there, including the need for a wife or partner, it is then that celibacy becomes that gift. All of the sexual energies of the individual are now focused on communication with Deity — and therein lies the blessing.
“What exists now is unbelievable pain and needs to be stopped immediately. It is within your power to release your priests and nuns from this unspeakable horror. Let each individual decide for himself or herself how they are to proceed through life — and with the blessing of the church, not the penance that is often prescribed when the rule is broken. And I’m talking about the physical side of the celibacy law, not the spiritual side. Every person who comes into the church to serve will have no difficulty in keeping the spiritual side of the law if their intent is to truly serve God. It would be a cruel God, indeed, who advocated the celibacy law as it is currently implemented.” Freddie paused and sat back and rested. Raffaele had taken Freddie’s hand and was not about to let it go. He was feeding like a vampire on the spirituality that was flowing from Freddie who was delighted to let him feed.
The afternoon was waning. Raffaele invited him to come to his study and continue their conversation. Freddie politely refused and promised to be in the garden at the same hour the next day.
While he was still talking to Raffaele he dematerialized and left Raffaele alone.
The sudden death of the Pope saddened the world, but the rumor that he had been assassinated created a news media storm that not only impeded the nine days of mourning required by Canonical Law but harassed the College of Cardinals entering Rome to take part in the Papal Conclave to elect the next Pontiff.
The Interregnum of fifteen days, before the Conclave was to begin, was extended to the final twentieth day because of the unusual circumstances.
On the twenty-first day after the Pope’s death, the College of Cardinals assembled in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace invoking the assistance of the Holy Spirit after which they proceeded to the Sistine Chapel where they took the required solemn oath. The Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies and the ecclesiastic chosen, finished their meditation with the College of Cardinals and departed the Sistine Chapel. The doors to the Chapel were then locked and sealed.
The Cardinals were in the process of reciting the prayers provided in the proper Ordo for the Conclave when the illumination within the Chapel began to increase until it became a blinding light.
When the light began to fade, the assembly of Cardinals was in disarray. Some were on their knees praying or standing in a dazed state. Others pressed against the exit doors which would not open. As the light dissipated, the figure of a priest dressed in formal black cleric robe was revealed. Around his neck hung a golden cross encrusted with sparkling emeralds. The cardinals shrank back at the sight. The priest said nothing while he waited for the unrest to subside. As the assembly quieted, some remained standing, others took their seats. Everyone looked toward the mysterious figure standing in the midst of them.
At last, the priest spoke, "My name is Father Frederick Monahan. I’ve come to talk to you about many things – things requiring your immediate attention if the Catholic Church is to survive and flourish.
“For those of you who are concerned, the doors of this chamber will remain locked until I have finished speaking to you. Your attendance is required — without exception,” he paused and waited. One of the Cardinals arose and stepped forward, raising his index finger as if he were about to speak. Father Frederick stepped toward the Cardinal. “You will sit down Cardinal Munsinger. You have nothing to say I have not already heard,” the Cardinal continued to approach. Freddie’s piercing stare stopped him in his tracks. He receded to his chair. Freddie cast his gaze over the entire assembly, “I know the secrets of your hearts. If any of you intend to cross swords with me, I suggest you give serious consideration to those intentions before you act.”
“My purpose in visiting you is multi-fold. The selection of a new Pope is, of course, paramount. I will speak of this later. The spiritual purpose and mission of this religious body have been abandoned long ago. It has given way to the self-serving greed and political agendas which have all but smothered the spiritual guidance intended for its parishioners. This trend is about to be reversed, with or without your participation. Pomp and circumstance are a thing of the past. Humility, a vow of poverty, and a true communion with deity will be the hallmarks of the future.
“There is a misconception the Catholic Church is essential to the wellbeing of humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth. God does not need this church, nor any church. What God does require are selfless individuals, both male and female, who are willing to sacrifice themselves in every way in the service of God. Whether they be members of any organization or not is of no consequence or of any importance. Should I take a tally of selflessness in this assembly, the results would be sadly wanting.
“This house of Catholicism has taken on royal robes it is not entitled to. Picking the pockets of its parishioners to sustain this royal façade must and will come to an end. You, as the governing body, will henceforth set the example of the one it purports to follow, namely Jesus the Christ. In order to accomplish that, there will be an outer, but more importantly, an inner change of every individual who wishes to continue in the service of God and this church.
“While one person on this planet remains homeless or hungry, this community will take the vow of poverty. You will be required to sign this vow of poverty,” he held a document aloft in his left hand. “Those of you who feel this is beneath your dignity will find your status within the church reduced to that of parishioner and nothing more. The terms of this vow are very clear.”
Voices rose, some Cardinals stood up as the realization of what Freddie had said sank into their consciousness. Freddie waited and then continued.
“I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself. I have no interest in hearing them. All of you have neglected your responsibility in guiding the spiritual needs and growth of those beneath you — including your bishops, priests, deacons, and especially your parishioners. Attending those needs will be your focus from this moment forward.
“I’ve heard over and over again that these papacy conclaves are guided by the Holy Spirit. This is not true. Starting now, these conclaves will be guided by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual goal of this congregation will be redefined and established once more. And it will be in everyone’s best interest to make it a priority in their lives to nurture that goal. Nurturing the spiritual wellbeing of everyone you encounter is your responsibility, not only to confirmed members of this religious body but to all souls on the face of this planet. It is especially true of those who reject you. They remain the children of God under any and all circumstances and recognizing that is the least you can accomplish.
“It’s about time you begin to remember God’s example as put forth in Matthew 5:45 ‘. . . for He maketh His sun to rise on the wicked and on the good, maketh the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers.’ How unfortunate it would be if he decided to show favoritism, deciding who does and who does not receive his Grace. Now is the time to take up those same reigns and begin conducting yourselves in the same selfless manner.
"The only way the Holy Spirit can have any effect here, or anywhere on the physical plane, is through individuals who dedicate themselves to selfless meditation and communion with the Infinite. Sad to say, there are few if any in this assembly who have achieved that altitude of prayer.
“This leads me to your first responsibility, the election of the Pontiff who will lead the nation of this church.
"There are many well-meaning, intelligent, and dedicated men among you. However, there is not one of you qualified for the position of Supreme Pontiff,” Father Frederick paused and then let the hammer fall. “Let it be further known, the blood of the dead Pope is on the hands of one of the attendees in this assembly.”
Muffled talking began. A few of the Cardinals arose in frustration, others looked to their neighbors to see if they were the one referred to. Father Frederick waited until everyone took their seats and quiet resumed.
“Seeking the Presence of God seems to have eluded you except for the lip service you pay which is worthless. You would be wise to follow the next Pope’s dedication to this state of being.
“There is one humble, enlightened, and God fearing priest who is in attendance to one in this audience. Hidden beneath his babat is a cross, the same as the one you see hanging about my neck. When he is discovered, you, Cardinal Albertini, as the Dean of Cardinals, will perform the liturgy of consecration raising him to the station of Bishop. His name will be offered to the remainder of this body for acceptance as the next Supreme Pontiff.”
Freddie motioned for Cardinal Albertini to come forward and spoke to him in a hushed tone. “You are advised to make your selection of the three Cardinals required to witness the liturgy. I suggest you prepare yourself now, as this ceremony will come quickly.”
Cardinal Albertini bowed his head and withdrew.
“The next, and final portion of this conversation deals with the changes to take place in Canon Law. These man-made laws are outdated and useless. They are causing more harm than any possible good. And do not delude yourselves that you can escape this responsibility. These changes will be made. There will be no debate. They will be accomplished post haste. Anyone who drags his feet will have a face to face conversation with me.
“The church is bleeding to death, and one of the root causes of this hemorrhaging is this man-made law of celibacy. The diminishing number of priests in the church has become critical. More young men are leaving the church than are entering the service of God and the church. This misguided law of celibacy, which has plagued the church for too long, will be struck down immediately.
“It has been trumpeted as a gift of the church. Forcing celibacy is not a gift and as such has resulted in pain, confusion, and scandals, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most if not all of you in this room have suffered the consequences of its enforcement. It is within your power to release your priests and nuns from this unspeakable horror. Let each individual decide for himself or herself how they are to live their lives – and with the blessing of the church, not the cruel penance inflicted when this evil rule is broken.
"And I am speaking of the physical side of celibacy — not the spiritual side. Every individual who comes into the church to serve God will have no difficulty keeping the spiritual side of celibacy if their intent is to truly serve God. It would be a cruel God indeed who advocated a celibacy law as it is currently implemented — by force.
"In 835, the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up the activities of clerics. Bishop Ulrich argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry. Obviously, no one listened to him and those excesses continue and are with us on an even broader scale today. You cannot put a cork in that bottle and not expect it to explode somewhere along the line.
"True celibacy is a gift from God, not the Catholic Church. When an individual soul has evolved spiritually to such a degree where they are truly in this world, but not of it – when there is no longer the desire for husband, or wife, or companion, or the things of this world – it is only then that celibacy becomes a gift. And not a gift to the individual, but a gift to the rest of humanity. The energies of these individuals are happily focused on communication with God. The positive results are endless — healings, spiritual knowledge, the list goes on as these few individuals become channels for the Divine. The priest I have in mind as your leader is such a man.
"I know only too well the position the church has taken on abortion and a woman’s right to choose. The primary problem is that the church has stepped away from and abandoned its spiritual purpose for existence.
"It has stepped down into the mundane level of consciousness where it has no business being in the first place.
“Should the church continue to insist on functioning at that level, then it must take on the full responsibilities of the man-made law it has created. Forbidding abortion immediately calls forth the responsibilities the church must adhere to before and after an unwanted child is born — from the psychological to the financial needs of all involved. Of paramount importance is the well-being of the newborn infant.
A dispensation clause in the abortion law is absolutely essential to prevent the birth of the physically or mentally deformed fetus. The argument that life begins at conception is irrelevant in this dispensation. Besides, there is no Scriptural evidence this is true other than the assumptions a group of misguided men made in the 1960s. Even if it were true, which it is not, I don't see those championing that claim, showing up to take care of the malformed infants. They wave their banners against abortion with great authority and then conveniently disappear when it's their turn to take responsibility for the results of their mistaken ideology. Animals are dealt with in a more compassionate and humane way.
“It would be far more prudent for the church to return to the spiritual pathway and leave the abortion issue to the parents thereby freeing them from the fear of retribution which the church has hung over their heads for far too long.
"It is utter nonsense when the hierarchy of the church claims it is the will of God. It is not the will of God – it is the will of man and nothing more. The church has elevated man-made traditions over the sovereign Word of God, which Jesus condemned. Where in the Holy Bible can you find - infant baptism, the mass, transubstantiation, celibate priests and nuns, confession to priests, last rites, purgatory, praying to Mary, and the saints, praying for the dead, one true church, papal infallibility, statues, rosary, and penance. You cannot.
"The abortion stance the church has taken is essentially a wicked law created by man, not God. You cannot administer a wicked law impartially, you can only punish and destroy. It destroys everyone, it's upholders as well as its defilers.
Can you not understand that if this trend is not stopped, tomorrow those within the church who are making these laws will decide which books you can and cannot read. And soon they will be banning books and newspapers, and eventually foisting their own religion upon the mind of its followers. If you can do one, you can do the other because fanaticism and ignorance are forever busy and require feeding.
"As for contraception. Forbidding contraception in this day and age is a joke, to say the least. If you took an honest poll from members of the church, you would find the majority of the faithful ignore this rule. The Biblical inferences on this subject, appearing in the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy, are hardly sufficient to warrant the flag waving campaign against this practice. It is obvious what needs to be done in this instance, so nothing more need be said.
"Now, we are at the threshold of related issues. This is where a woman's right to choose comes into play. Not only the right to choose, but also women's equality in all aspects of the church, especially the right to be elevated to the priesthood. There is no reason for holding women back in their quest to serve God through the church, other than the self-serving ignorance within the Holy See. Women are more sensitive to the needs of their fellow man than are her male counterparts whose fear is the foundation of their repression.
"In the distant past women were confirmed into the priesthood, only to administer in women's prisons. The iron hand of the male-dominated church hierarchy saw to that. And when the need no longer existed, this avenue for women was abolished. This macho attitude toward women is fast becoming the millstone about its neck. And using Holy Scripture as the legality of the church's position in this matter borders on the heretical.
"If nothing is done, and soon, it will assist in dragging the church into the dustbin of history. It is your responsibility to reverse this trend.
“The church has lost sight of its mission to administer to the spiritual needs of its followers. They need to get out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do in their personal lives and begin again to focus on the spiritual growth of each member of the congregate.
"The Divine impulse, giving men the will to make decisions has been grossly abused. Now is the moment to reverse this trend.
“This concludes my mission. The onus is upon you. I expect you to do your duty immediately and without hesitation.”
A brilliant light filled the chamber and then faded to the total silence among the attendees. An audible clanking sound, signaling the doors to the Chapel were open, sent the Cardinals scurrying to gather their personal items and hurrying to the exit.