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Home > World

Pope on the ropes

19 December 2003

The Pope is on the wane.

This week he was officially described as 'shrunken', 'faded' and, rather poignantly, 'more dried apricot now than man'. Now he rarely moves of his own accord and his voice when it emerges is little more than the gurgle of a geriatric baby. His second childhood is so far advanced, his regression into infancy so unfettered by natural causes, that in private moments, it is said that his body, of its own accord, slowly curls and creaks into a close approximation of the foetal position. However, unlike most old aged pensioners, the Pope's ancient flesh is kept permanently anointed with precious rubbing oils.

Undoubtedly, this is one of the many factors that has contributed to his long life, one of the many perks of being God's special boy down here on Earth. It's a charmed life really. No wonder there's currently such a pre-funereal hullabaloo backstage.

Favourites to stop rubbing their hands and take on the arduous mantle of 267th head of the Catholic Church are the Vatican's 75-year-old Secretary of State, Cardinal Angelo Sodano; and John-Paul's personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz (pronounced Jeevish, a delicious little name which makes one yearn for a Wooshter). Jeevish is another Pole. Funnily enough he is also the Vatican goalkeeper. And he's reported to be anywhere between 73 and 212 years of age, and utterly inscrutable.

When you imagine the backstage shenanigans at the Vatican, you see Augustus, Tiberius, Caligula et al, making history on the set of the seminal 'I Claudius' - particularly seminal if you happened to be male and weeping through puberty at the time. In the Vatican in your head it's all there, in camera, behind the porticoes, all the back-stabbing and buggery, all the cloak and skullduggery, all the treacherous haberdashery that befits a civilisation in terminal decline. But sadly, none of the boastful sexuality of buxom queens and concubines. Frosty old Catholics.

And now they're afraid. Jean Paul is going to be a very tough act to replace. As Popes go, he has been magnificent. Beyond the wealth of canonisations, this pope is extraordinarily popular, even with many otherwise cynical Italians. They call him the Good Pope. And for the most part, he was. He kept his mouth shut and himself and the church out of trouble. Which, with the malignant shadow of seemingly-compulsory boy-buggery all but suffocating even the most die-hard Catholic, is all that can really be asked of anyone. But now - or in a couple of hours surely - the dream is - or will be - over. And when he breathes his last, there'll be turbulence.

But before we've even had time to dry our eyes, there'll be an end to the turbulence, which we won't have been aware of anyway, and there'll be another old, old man with permanently anointed flesh sitting on the telly, wrapped in gold and sincerely urging peace, denouncing poverty and redeclaring war on the Satanic AIDS-spreading curse that is the condom. Or as they say in Italy, 'when one Pope dies, you just make another one.'

More Pope here.

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