Friday, August 24, 2007

When the Pope died

L.B.: Is the pope Catholic?, Left Behind, pp. 318-320

Pablo Appeninni had been camerlengo of the papal household for fifteen years: he considered himself both experienced and discreet. The present Pope, John Paul III, the first American-born Catholic to be elected to the Papacy, had often said so.

But this was a situation for which there was no doctrinal response. He had been summoned to the Pope's bedroom - woken from a sound sleep, after a servant had found the Pope missing from his bed.

Not just missing: the Pope's pyjamas were still there. So (Pablo had checked discreetly) were his woolly bedsocks. His spectacles were on the bedside table. His false teeth were in the glass by his bed.

Kidnapped, was the first thought that came to mind: but the Swiss Guard's commander on duty that night was emphatic that no one could have taken the Pope from his bed. The gates of the Vatican were sealed. A search was instigated.

And then someone - some junior priest, Pablo never found out who - happened to switch on his mobile phone to listen to the national news, and shortly afterwards all over the Vatican TVs were being switched on, as the search for the Pope drifted to a halt.

At least, Pablo caught himself thinking, as he and the other senior staff gathered again in the Pope's bedroom, he didn't have to think of searching for a naked John Paul III any more.

The Pope's pyjamas still lay where he had vanished out of them. There could be no doubt about it: the Pope, like all the children of the world, like a select fraction of adults all over the world had vanished, perhaps forever.

Everyone else in the room was looking at him. It was the camerlengo's responsibility to confirm the Pope's death. Pablo walked over to the bed, wishing this were a problem that could be resolved by tapping the Pope's head with a silver hammer. He was also supposed to call the Pope by his first name - which was some American monstrosity that Pablo had always tried to forget. A higher proportion of American adults had vanished, so the news reports said, than from anywhere else - curse the last conclave of Cardinals for landing them with this problem! "The American Pope", indeed.

"Tyler," Pablo said at last, out loud, quite distinctly. There was no head to rap with a hammer. "Tyler. Tyler."

No response. Pablo turned to the other staff. "The Pope is dead," he said out loud. "We must summon the college of Cardinals."

Once they got here, the interregnum would be their problem.