Episode One: Showdown in the Sistine Corral
"And unto whomsoever much is given, of him much shall
be required; and to whom they have committed much, of
him much they will demand more."
Luke 12: 48
Over the years there had been many who had dared gamble with the Faith, ignoring the dire warnings of the Scriptures and the counsels of the Saints, Fathers, Doctors, past Pontiffs, Councils and the divine constitution of the Church. Throwing caution and conscience to the wind, many had succeeded, for the modern paladins of power had wagered souls, turning religion into a kind of bureaucratic blasphemy, a poker game of the highest stakes.
Considering what was at risk this day in the Sistine Chapel, the House was ready to call the bluff of the hierarchical card-sharks who had bankrupted the sheep of the fold. The time had arrived, the moment of truth, to play the winning card: to break and exile those cheaters who had not played by the rules established by Jesus Christ and passed on through the centuries in the constituted evangelic traditions of His one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church. Those intent on cheating would call the House to show. Whoever had the wild card would win.
Dateline: Vatican City - Office of Universal Communications - November 6, 4:20 p.m.
It was a crowded room. Pat, Corrie, Niki, Sister Bridie and Ogidi had joined Colin and Stephen in Monsignor Navarro's office. Makuta had shed the colorful robe, dressed now all in black. The rest were planning their next move, bringing all up to date. Pat had Stephen's Sony VAIO notebook computer primed and ready. A small microphone would pick up whatever was transmitted through the unique, state-of-the-art sleek little pen-like gadget, which Rembert had introduced. Through these Penultimates, Stephen was in constant contact with Royce Schuster, now the ranking commander of the loyal Swiss Guards, standing just outside the main entrance to the Sistine Chapel.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sistine Chapel - November 6, 4:25 p.m.
Once every Cardinal Elector had completed their personal part of the oath, the business aspects of the Conclave would need to be addressed. According to the rules laid out in the Ordo Rituum Conclavis, there would be no speeches and exhortations for various men to be touted as most papabili.
However that had not left the Cardinal Electors in the dark. Indeed, much lobbying had taken place over the last few days. Though it was discouraged and frowned upon greatly, it still continued; always had, always would. The scuttlebutt all were aware of was that the progressivist Krementz had strongly stood by the Vicar General and Archpriest of the Basilica Josef Vendhem. He had already lobbied long and hard among the 40 bishops who awaited admittance to the Conclave; a plan guaranteed by Macelli. The rewards of mammon blinded the Belgian from his duty and vows. The Holy Ghost had long left him.
Also waiting in the wings was the Chilean steeped in liberation theology, Cardinal Raul Carteaga Santiago. It had been no secret that he had been at the forefront in furthering the Latin American alliance with leftist sympathizers, led by the Peking prelate Cardinal Kai Jeng Hong-Ju of the Eastern Bloc. Shame knew no limits. If Carteaga were elected it would lead to the full-fledged communist agenda. Years ago most would have shunned such a position, but ever since the Pact of Metz in 1962 and the 1993 Balamand Statement, the Church had slowly, but surely slid to the left, not only shunning capitalism and the corrupt western morals, but also conversion to the faith in exchange for the shackles of slavery to the state and the world, masked by solidarity. The abandonment of Taiwan by Benedict XVI and embrace of the government-run Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church only made this possibility, albeit tragic, very plausible.
Then there was the Pole Cardinal Kazimierz Strovinksy. An avid disciple of Pere Teilhard de Chardin, he wanted to advance the cause of the enlightenment and ecumenism, by encouraging the election of the Frenchmen Leon Tourrieu du Visserant to advocate the fulfillment of the new world order, even further relaxing the disciplines of the Church in advancing one ecumenical order. The Paris prelate had always preached and determined that compromise was the solution for everything, as long as not too much was conceded. With what the progressivist Visserant wanted to do, it would be too much. There were more than a few who doubted his chances.
More gave credibility to the moderate position of Cardinal Bartolomeo Parelliera from Naples. As the Neopolitan Emeritus for the past six years, Parelliera had remained active even though he was now a mere six months from being a healthy, hearty 81. Malachi and a coalition of moderates had rationalized that Bartolomeo would be a logical compromise, allowing for future consistories to rebuild the ranks of the College. Their logic: in a few years or so, Parelliera would pass on to his heavenly reward and there would then be more candidates worthy to carry on the conservative agenda of Vatican II. Of late his candidacy had been strongly recommended by the Australian Cardinal Malachi Lewiston, who had been well prepared in heralding the candidacy of the more conservative Italian disciple of John Paul II, in all things but ecumenism. However, thanks to Rembert's interview with Malachi the night before, Lewiston now had to deal with deflecting interest in his own candidacy. The Australian prelate feared some might think he was undermining Bartolomeo's chances. Nothing could be further from the truth, yet suspicions still hovered like vultures.
Cardinal Wetherby was the man who openly championed the traditional cause, promoting the candidacy of the Dean of Cardinals himself. Cardinal Kabwela had wanted to promote the merits of His Eminence Gregory Cardinal Zachmunn, but the St. Louis Archbishop nixed any indications of that a day after his arrival in Rome. He feared that two purely orthodox, traditional candidates could split the vote and thus prevent a majority. Gregory also always realized that he who walks into the Conclave thinking he will be Pope, most often walks out still a Cardinal. Besides, the American Prince of the Church had no desire for higher office, nor did Julies; yet both knew someone had to be ready to accept the keys if offered. The fate of Holy Mother Church hung in the balance.
However for Julies and Gregory, that was now a mute point since the Holy Father was still alive. How long? That depended on God, but each prayed silently that it would be long enough to right the wrongs. Sincere prayers seldom go unanswered.
Bringing the gavel down, Cardinal Mendoza pronounced, "As Dean of this august Assembly, I now open the floor to any business or objections that would prevent the elections from proceeding as scheduled."
Almost immediately it was Cardinal Erich Rupert Krementz who raised his hand for recognition. "In all due respect, your Grace, I have an objection."
Cardinal Mendoza acknowledged him, "The Chair recognizes the venerable brother from Belgium. Your question first, Lord Krementz."
Krementz stood. "I have a grave question and motion I would like to place before the Assembly. Many of us are disturbed that, despite the order of His Holiness Paul VI's 1975 Apostolic Constitution, there are those who have admitted twelve Lords whose eligibility has expired. I would call into question this validity and move that they be removed and replaced by the 40 preconium Bishops approved by the late Pontiff."
Cardinal Lewiston winced as Krementz looked toward Macelli. "I would like to cede the rest of my time to His Grace the venerable Camerlengo."
Cardinals Mendoza, Zachmunn and Wetherby knew what was coming next, as did many in this room as the squat Italian rose from his chair on the left side of the table and, with a document in hand, moved around to the center next to the Dean.
"Si, I have here a Papal Bull from His Holiness Clement XV of happy memory who early last week personally placed in my hands to disseminate this motu proprio, which we had first presented last night."
"I believe the reason for that, Lord Macelli," Mendoza interjected, "was because of the absence of the official seal."
"Ah, si, but that was a copy I unfortunately picked up in my haste."
"Just as the document you produced on the morning of November 1st," Mendoza shot back, "proclaiming that the Holy Father had actually decreed that sin, per se, does not exist and that it was the Jews who fabricated the lie? What do you take us all for, Lord Macelli?"
"I assure all," Macelli turned nervously toward the Assembly, "What I hold in my hand is the official document and, as can be examined, the official seal from His Holiness' ring is imprinted here." Macelli held it out for all to see, as each Scrutineer studied it astutely. "In hindsight, I should have circulated it immediately, but I did not foresee the Pope's end would come so quickly. I fear no one did."
Macelli was playing on the sensibilities and sensitivities of the gathered red hats, as he sought to inject the coup de grace. "Therefore, I move that this be unanimously approved and the 40 Excellencies announced preconium for the Consistory be admitted per His Holiness' last request."
The voice of Krementz echoed across the room, "I second the motion."
Ah, a fait accompli, beamed Vendhem prematurely.
Cardinal Wetherby stood to be recognized, "Rule of Order, your Grace." Mendoza warmly welcomed the Advocate's interference.
"There is a violation of the rules, your Grace," the English prelate enunciated so perfectly. "I do believe one who makes the original motion cannot second the same motion. Therefore both the motion and second must be annulled."
"What," Macelli was beside himself. He hadn't prepared for this Limey's obstruction.
Cardinal Mendoza admitted Thomas' logic into evidence. "According to the Rules of the Order for the Conclave, I believe he is right. Also, I believe before his Lordship from Belgium turned the floor over to his Lordship from Italy, that the first item introduced was the question of the legitimacy of the twelve venerable brothers who have exceeded the age of 80. I personally can attest to His Holiness' assurance that he has lifted the ban on age placed by Papa Montini."
Cardinal Carteaga was on his feet challenging. "What evidence do you have, your Grace. I demand you produce it immediately or else."
"Or else what?" Julies said icily.
"Or else the motion must be allowed to stand," Krementz snapped.
"Very well," the Dean of the College had been ready for just such a question. "I believe Gregory Cardinal Zachmunn has the evidence you seek. Would your Lordship from the United States please step forward?"
Gregory rose from his place beneath his baldacchino, and moved toward the front past Vendhem. He could almost sense the leering hiss as he passed, picking up his gait. "Your Grace, I do indeed have the document signed on the feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, August 22 of this year. As you can see, it has the official seal of the Fisherman's Ring."
Cardinal Zachmunn presented it to the Scrutineers who examined it carefully.
The progressivists were reeling. Cardinal Leon Tourrieu du Visserant rose to be recognized, trying to salvage this latest volley. "Your Grace, if both have been approved by His Holiness of happy memory, then we might as well accept both groups." The progressive Frenchman needed all the votes he could get, as he saccharinely replied, "that would bring the Cardinal Electors to 73, would it not?"
Gregory was prepared. "Your Grace, if I may. I can assure all my brothers that the document of August 22 was written and approved by His Holiness Clement XV. I would challenge Lord Macelli to match the seal."
A moan of amazement rippled through the Sistine Chapel. This Archbishop of St. Louis was calling the powerful Cardinal Camerlengo to task. This should be interesting, they whispered as all eyes focused on the two Cardinals. Gregory stood eye to eye with the rotund Italian. Showdown time in the Sistine Corral.
Macelli was sweating profusely for he knew the seal on the document he presented was counterfeit. But how did he know it would be scrutinized so meticulously? The Legion's best operatives had prepared the forgery. Surely it would hold up. To the Scrutineers there was no difference. That is how close the authentic and the false were.
The Italian black-hearted was desperate. "In these times there are many deceptions. How do I, and my venerable brothers of the Cardinalate, know the document His Lordship da Stati Uniti has produced is authentic?" Macelli had always landed on his feet, he would regain the upper hand once again. A smugness spread over his bloated countenance.
As all watched with anxious anticipation, Mendoza gave the knowing signal to Gregory, who in turn nodded toward Cardinal Kabwela seated at his baldacchino towards the back right wall. It was time to trump the Legion. The planners of the trap were ready to spring the sting.
Not everyone was aware of the magniloquence and historical event that was about to be played out on this small Sistine stage; an eventuality which would impact the entire world for generations and generations and generations to come.
Cardinal Mbuta Celestin Kabwela, as one of the selected Infirmarians, was wheeling forward a man with his head down covered by a rochet, with a red cardinal's cloak covering him from the chest down.
Most in the room assumed this was Cardinal Marcini being rolled forward. The Zimbabwe-born prelate positioned the high-back handicap chair before the table, standing in front of the person in the wheelchair to block the view of most. Wetherby had moved to the left to obstruct Macelli's and the Scrutineers' view and Cardinal Zachmunn moved closer to impede the view of others on the right, including the Revisers. The man in the wheel chair was totally concealed. In this cocoon of three Princes of the Holy Roman Church, the one in the wheel chair slowly removed the rochet veil covering his head, then the cardinal cloak covering the rest of his body slipped to the floor, unseen by the rest.
"I believe, brother Electors," Cardinal Mendoza announced, "we have reached a point in these proceedings which mandates that the cloak of secrecy be removed, that deceit be driven from these chambers and that the true purpose of this Conclave be revealed."
Puzzled looks formed on the faces of most of the electorate. What was going on? Vendhem and Macelli were becoming more perplexed by the second. Julies seemed to be relishing the idea of drawing
this out, letting those betrayers twist a little longer in the winds of regret. Remorse would not blow through, for evil knew no contrition.
"We have gathered, against the norms laid out by His Holiness Clement XV in his Apostolic Constitution Quodcumque Solveris, to elect a successor. Why?"
Some in the room were outraged by such a question. The outspoken Krementz spoke aloud without receiving recognition. "Why, your Grace? Why?" he mocked. "Could it be because we need to elect the next Pope?! That is why. The world is in turmoil. Millions have died and the Holy See was practically destroyed. That is why we must proceed with vigor. Yet, we are saddled with bickering over Papal documents that have already been disseminated to all in the Electorate. What good does this do? We waste valuable time. Let us approve Lord Visserant's suggestion that all the documents be approved per compromissum by voice vote, and then, with 73 Electors present, get on with the important matter for which we are all gathered here this afternoon: to elect the next Sovereign Pontiff." Smugly, he sat back down as some applauded his remarks, not expecting Mendoza's reasoning.
"Ah, but we do not need to elect the next Pope right now," Mendoza responded boldly. "Yes, the Lord Cardinal from Belgium is right: the world is in turmoil. But we have been greatly deceived. All have been led to believe that His Holiness was assassinated in the terrible explosions in Iraq. I am here before you to present evidence to that lie."
Macelli was squirming. Vendhem was livid. Krementz' countenance expressed consternation. Confusion ensued with most of his fellow electors.
The resisters were ready to show their card as Mendoza intoned, "In light of what is about to be revealed, there will be no further need to adhere to the strict rules of the Conclave." More gasps escaped from the room as the Spanish prelate continued.
"Therefore," Julies announced, "as Dean of the College, I hereby order the doors opened immediately. I also ask the Swiss Guards to be at the ready."
The doors were unsealed and Captain Royce Schuster and a battalion of five Swiss Guards accompanied him. Mendoza took note, addressing the commandant, "Captain, I ask you to bring forward Doctors Ghislieri and Kinsajira."
Scanning the Cardinal Electors, the Spaniard addressed the Assembly. "Dear brothers of the pectoral cross, it is my humble duty and privilege to present to you the one man none of us thought we would ever see again - His Holiness the Sovereign Pontiff of Rome and Vicar of Christ - Clement XV."
As Cardinal Mendoza announced the Pope, Cardinal Kabwela stepped behind and wheeled the Holy Father forward a few feet. Everyone in the room was stunned beyond belief. The Doctors moved to each side of His Holiness with Dr. Ghislieri readjusting the Holy Father's IV tube.
For a brief moment you could hear a pin drop, and then Vendhem bellowed out in desperation, "This is a trick. He is an imposter, I tell you!"
"No, Josef, it is I in the flesh," Clement XV spoke out, surprisingly strong considering his condition.
The Pope hesitated a few seconds as he scanned the assembly, then focused his eyes on Vendhem directly. "It saddens Us so greatly to see how you, Josef and Antonio, have followed the path of Judas the Betrayer. We assure all in this room that We would never have written such heresy as Lord Macelli claimed. They are of the devil."
The Pope's voice was strong, commanding. "We hereby order, by Our Papal Command, the guards to seize and remove these two perfidious apostates immediately. You both, and others within this hallowed hall, have greatly betrayed Christ and His Church. Begone, Satan!"
Macelli tried to run. He was no match for Captain Royce Schuster's brigade.
Vendhem would not go quietly. "No! No! No! It cannot be! No!" he shrieked like the mad man he was as two guards dragged him out of the Sistine, kicking and screaming while all in scarlet and black looked on in shock and awe at what had just transpired.
Dateline: Vatican City - Office of the Head of Universal Communications - November 6, 4:38 p.m.
By now Stephen and all in his office had been alerted. Pat was ready with the Mirror Reflector card in place as Colin went into action. As he had done for the evacuation, it was time again to commandeer the satellite systems, overriding all other networks. This time he was giving them notice.
"Members and heads of the press," Colin began hacking into all other signals. "I know you already want my head on a platter for piracy, but may I be so bold as to ask your indulgence once again. I ask this because you are about to hear a very important announcement that must be conveyed to the entire world. I assure all participants that the full context of this broadcast will be available for all mediums after the address is given. Ladies and gentlemen, we take you now direct to the Sistine Chapel where, for the first time ever, the world will be able to see and hear the cardinals in Conclave. We can do this because the secrecy shield has been lifted. It has been lifted because, I am so happy to announce, the Pope lives. Ladies and gentlemen, His Holiness Pope Clement XV."
Dateline: Vatican City - St. Peter's Square - November 6, 4:39 p.m.
The rumble could be heard in the Square as word spread like wildfire and many looked up toward the massive permanent speakers. The Pope was alive! "Viva le Papa!" chorused from the Square.
"What the hale's goin' on?" The Franciscan in the expensive cowboy boots demanded of a group of nearby pilgrims from Manchester.
One among the group offered enthusiastically, "Friar, the Pope is alive. He is going to speak. How jolly wonderful."
"Yeah, jolly," spewed Blix. Damn. It couldn't be. How? How had they kept the damn Pope alive all this time. It had to be a ruse. Couldn't be Clement XV. The Legion had eliminated him. Hadn't they? Damn, Blix thought almost aloud as he skulked away from this overjoyed English group who were hanging on every word coming forth from the speakers.
For the moment, Blix could do nothing to stop it. Where was Macelli? Vendhem? Grabe? Collier? Where were the other members of the Legion?
Where indeed was the watchword this day for in years to come, present generations all over the globe would tell their grandchildren where they were, what they were doing when they heard the announcement that the Pope was miraculously alive. They would also mark this day as one of the most significant in the history of the Church and civilization, one that Blix would rue.
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