While the Angelus bells rang out for the hour of Vespers, Stephen waited in his office for the volunteer attendants to arrive with empty cartons to help pack and cart 733 press kits to Paul VI Hall. He made use of his time, going over the final seating assignments in the Basilica for the authorized press, as well as checking all updated passes on his Sony VAIO.
At the same time scores of Vatican personnel were filing into St. Peter's for the special Vespers and Rosary to honor their slain colleagues before tomorrow's funeral. Security attendants had held them at the door until a final sweep had been made to make sure none of the public mourners had remained within, hiding in the crypts or behind statues, even in the confessionals.
Finally, the growing group of those lay, cleric, and religious who were waiting to pay their respects, had been given the all-clear sign and they began moving patiently one-by-one through the security arch that led into the main vestibule. The same procedures were being conducted at the less conspicuous side entrances on either side. Security personnel checked each person's credentials. These workers, who were not in any way part of the Legion's mechanizations, were meticulous in their scrutiny. Not all would be on time for Vespers this night. They would be forgiven considering the circumstances.
While the lines of Vatican personnel continued to form at three different entrances into St. Peter's and the gendarmes dispensed the crowds away from the Basilica, the princes of the Church were beginning to gather. The Chess game for control had begun.
Dateline: Vatican City - Sala Regia Hall near the Sistine Chapel - November 5, 6 p.m.
Cardinals Antonio Macelli and Josef Vendhem would rue their decision to hold a private gathering before the General Congregation get-together. Cardinals Mendoza, Wetherby and Zachmunn had anticipated such chicanery and quietly countered with a meeting of the other Cardinals not invited to the intimate parley in the suite of Cardinal Onani Uodamo, the late Secretary of State murdered with all the rest on the Field of Abraham.
Meanwhile in the Sala Regia, where the first pre-conclave General Congregation would commence in two hours, the servants setting up for it were surprised by the arrival of a dozen Cardinals, plus twelve other Cardinals - elderly ones.
Included in this latter group was Cardinal Guido Marcini who lit up any room once he motored in on his custom-made wheel chair, one he himself had helped design, even build. Those who saw him, or most of the other eleven Prelates over 80 years old in this room, would testify to their fitness and how wrong to deny the Church the wisdom of their years. Yet, according to Paul VI and his ill-advised advisors, no one over 80 could function as a full-fledged member of the College of Cardinal
There were eleven others left out of the loop for the impending Conclave. Yet they were allowed to attend this pre-general congregation in the Sala Regia tonight. In addition to the jovial Marcini, the other 'lepers of age' were, by order of the oldest to the youngest: Cardinal Cesare Carlo Giongoliosi, 97 - Italy; Cardinal Auguste Ribera Lorenzo, 94 - Peru; Cardinal Maximilian Von Stultz, 91 - Austria; Cardinal Giorgio Castiglione, 89 - Italy; Cardinal Christopher Zwali Mubenga, 87 - Kenya; Cardinal Miguel Asante Carvajal, 87 - Spain; Cardinal Peter Folenga Marzure, 85 - Ivory Coast; Cardinal Louis Cottier, 82 - U.S.A.; Cardinal Bartolomeo Parelliera, 81 - Italy; Cardinal William Richard Quentin, 81 - Great Britain; and Cardinal Jean Henri d'Estambleau, 80 of France.
It was Paul VI's radical 1976 document Romano Pontifici Eligendo which determined this new limitation that once a Cardinal reached the age of 80 he was no longer eligible to vote in the Sacred Conclave. Rather than rescinding this, his successor John Paul II had made even more radical changes in his Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis twenty years later.
If any of the Prelates in this room wondered why these two Vatican II Pontiffs veered so from the traditional norms practiced since 1059, one only needed to look at the rotting fruits. Changes and failed novelties over the past fifty years were the undeniable visible evidence of barren fields where should have been a plentiful harvest. That syllogism was not lost on more than a few Cardinals who gathered in this great hall, which was, in effect, an antechamber to the Sistine Chapel. Their hearts were heavy, for each knew the institutional structure of the Church, once a rock-solid wall was now nothing more than a rotting beam.
Cardinal Zachmunn, New Zealander Cardinal Malachi Chester Lewiston, and Cardinal William Richard Quentin of England were grouped together as others mingled. Quentin was being philosophical.
"Why is it, gentlemen, that when we are young we are daring and progressive in nature and believe all the world should think as we do, but when we grow older and wiser we realize the world is on the wrong course - the very course we helped set?"
"Ah," agreed Cardinal Lewiston, "the perfect definition of a conservative. A moderate pushed to the right by progressivist thinking."
"For those who are not true to the traditions of the Church it always comes back to haunt them," concluded Gregory. "We reap what we sow."
"Yes," agreed Cardinal Quentin, "I believe it was the holy Pontiff St. Stephen I who said 'Do not innovate. Rest content with tradition.'"
"Unfortunately, there is no rest," added Cardinal Lewiston, the Archbishops of Christchurch, New Zealand.
"Because they could not be content with tradition," concluded Gregory.
"Si. So true," affirmed the Archbishops of Genoa, Cardinal Clemente Gregorio Bondi who had just joined the group along with his friend Cardinal Marcini.
"Ah, Clemente," Cardinal William Quentin welcomed him. "Your great mentor warned of what the Second Vatican Council would wrought."
"Si, sighed Bondi. "I will never forget his words, 'If the Church were not divine, this council would have buried it.'"
"And who might you be talking about?" asked Cardinal Mbuta Kabwela, overhearing the conversation.
"Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Mbuta," Gregory informed. "He consecrated Monsignore Bondi."
"Yes. I have read much of his works. I am impressed. It has made me think much of what we have lost." Kabwela's words spoke volumes to the leanings of this Ugandan.
Gregory took note, sizing up this young 58-year-old who had been ordained by Cardinal Emmanuel Wamala in 1998.
"He also said," continued the British Cardinal, that 'it will take a hundred years to heal the wounds left by the Second Vatican Council.'"
"Had he been Pope as many thought he would be," nodded Cardinal Lewiston, "I can imagine that undertaking would have already been nearly complete in healing the wounds."
"Do you believe the rumors that he was actually elected in the Sacred Conclave of 1963 and again in 1978?" asked Cardinal Kabwela, somewhat naively, but sincerely. His question signaled that he had questions about the validity of the Vatican II popes.
"Whether we believe it or not, Mbuta," Gregory answered, "we shall never know for those who were at those Sacred Conclaves have taken that secret to the grave."
"Si. As well they should," inserted Cardinal Marcini, leaning forward in his mobile chariot, "for that is the testimony of the great confidence in the confidentiality of the Conclave, in the holy oath. Even Siri refused to divulge how he was treated."
In hearing his insight, one had to wonder what Paul VI, along with those who influenced him, were thinking. How could he deem that men elevated to the highest plateau of the hierarchy would lose their mental faculties once they turned a certain age? Could he not have made provisions not to exclude those who still had their mental faculties? If there was a better contradiction to the Vatican II Popes' philosophical folly it was evident in the wisdom of the good Guido Marcini.
As a few others joined the conversation Gregory scanned the Sala Regia, sizing up the Cardinals in this room from the research and dossiers he had studied. It would give him a good inkling of how they would vote; not for a Pope, but whether they would vote down Macelli's proposal of adding forty more to the Sacred Conclave. Cardinal Zachmunn realized these forty men who, according to the Cardinal Camerlengo had been selected for the next consistory, had no right to be privy to such an august honor as the red biretta. Truth be known, he thought, many of them had no right to wear the robes of a cleric, let alone wear a miter. Adding to Zachmunn's severe doubts was the fact that Clement XV's goal was to reduce the College of Cardinals, not increase it by 40. In fact, never in the history of the Church had there been that many elevated to the Cardinalate in one consistory.
The Archbishops of St. Louis realized that the list of the 40 preconized Bishops were a veritable who's who of men ingrained with the errors of Vatican II. They had flown beneath the radar of the sex scandals that had devastated the Church early in the first decade of the millennium. Had those in charge realized the apple doesn't fall very far from the tree, they would have realized this batch of malcontents and ambitious clerics were the sickening product of the tolerant age.
The scandal and cover-up within the Church had grown so bad that within a few months after Pope Clement XV assumed the throne of Peter, he called a Synod of the Cardinals. There he had warned them that if their sees were not cleaned up within 90 days they would be held personally responsible. It was a tough decision, tough action, but someone had to do it. Thank God, thought Gregory, someone finally had.
The consequences were evident. Unlike his predecessors, Clement reinstituted the word "anathema" and dared to remind the faithful of the errors Popes Pius IX, Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Pius XI, and Pius XII had warned against, and clearly condemned.
Many had grown so lax that they were indeed shocked when Clement called the bluff of the disobedient ones. He replaced seven Cardinals in the United States, four of them being deposed of their Cardinalate. He did the same for five in South America, nine in Italy, three in France, two from Germany, one from Australia, England, Ireland and Belgium. Overall 19 had their canonical faculties taken away, 32 were relieved of office. Through this purging and natural deaths or age, the ranks of the College shrunk from 170 back to 100, more representative of how it was before Paul VI's reforms.
It shook the rafters of the Curia as well when His Holiness suspended temporarily all activities of the Sacred Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Documentation of scandalous behaviors and payments by those who had been beatified, even canonized had been uncovered. The sins of a few of these modern 'saints' could only be described as old-fashioned simony. The sad fact was that these facts had been uncovered by media watchdogs, not the hierarchy. They were severe charges that called into question, very serious question, whether more than a few men and women beatified and even canonized by a few of the Vatican II Popes had been legitimate. The lack of qualified Devil's advocates had expedited the canonization process, turning it into a factory of honoring those who would verify the desperate path the Second Vatican Council had taken. It had sunk to the commonplace standards that it became the standing joke in the media whether over the last few decades there had been more stars placed on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood or new saints named.
Gregory had known for a fact that Clement XV had been working on a major document. It was an encyclical that would return the proper of the liturgy to a one year cycle. Through his decree the new Pope would re-institute the feast days as they had been observed by the Church for centuries before. It would be a refreshing return to tradition as opposed to the confusing inclusionary expansion of the three-year cycle ushered in by Paul VI and continued under John Paul II with the addition of new saints to the Roman calendar.
The Cardinal did not know how far the Holy Father was going, whether he would advocate for a return to the Tridentine Latin Rite as the major and only liturgy for the universal Church. There would be opposition from those who had grown lazy and stubborn in their comfort zone. How do you change a half-century of bad habits? That was a question Clement had struggled with throughout his relatively short papacy; the same dilemma many of those Prelates in the room this night weren't quite sure how to address.
In a letter to Cardinal Khadid, shared with Gregory, Clement had likened it to the analogy of a container full of stagnant water that could not be tipped or scooped out. There was only one way to rid the cauldron of the corrupted liquid. To do so one had to fill it with the small and many stones of the absolutes and truths of the faith until eventually the rocks would cause all or most of the contaminated fluid to spill over and evaporate. Until then, the uncongealed poison of error would continue to pollute mankind, making it even easier for the Basilisk to gain total control.
Cardinal Zachmunn realized his colleagues needed to begin in earnest to deposit those rocks in the sodden solution that had infested everything since John XXIII had announced his plans for aggiornamento.
Gregory had reached the grouping which included Cardinal Thomas Wetherby and four others including the Frenchman Cardinal Philippe Maurin, the 65-year old Archbishops of Marseilles who had been ill and unable to travel to Iraq. He would forever be grateful and, perhaps, realize the error of his ways and abandon the ecumenical reforms that had turned the first daughter of the Church, his beloved France, into little more than a figurehead of Christianity. The Moslems had overrun France, not by force, but by conversion. Those who once knelt for Holy Communion now knelt on prayer rugs bowing to Allah. Such were the fruits of ecumenism and secularism.
"Mon frere, Is this not a beautiful room?"
"Oui," patronized Cardinal Zachmunn.
"Ze frescoes de le Pope Gregory retourner apres Avignon, most colorful. N'est ce pas? "
Gregory nodded, thinking if only this Prelate had delved beneath the surface and studied his faith and duties as a shepherd, rather than a perishable fresco, he would have stood against the syncretistic onslaught.
"That it is, Philippe. I would like to address something else if I may have your attention for a moment." Gregory made a point of making sure all within the group had his attention. "I think we all realize that to swell our ranks with forty more would be foolish of us. We have no proof those so-called 'announced' shepherds were from the pen of His Holiness."
"Certainly not from his seal," asserted Cardinal Jon Anton Kravic, his six-foot four-inch frame towering above the rest.
His comment was encouraging to Gregory. Ever since the election of Clement XV this 67-year old Croatian Prelate had shown signs of warming to the ideas of the traditional point of view. He had been a strong proponent for all John Paul II had promulgated, proclaiming what many of his region stubbornly stood by: 'My Pope right or wrong.' Perhaps Kravic's reluctance to be critical of John Paul's bizarre actions was due to the fact that the Prelate had been consecrated on June 29, 1997 by Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, who had been consecrated in 1964 by Blessed Cardinal Alojzije Stepnac. Because it was John Paul who beatified the latter, all Croatians were quick to defend the Pope. This held true even when it was obvious his unorthodox actions were harmful to the faith. They refused to believe such deeds as kissing the Koran, not reining in the Bishops who allowed sin to fester in great scandal, pandering to the abortion-oriented United Nations, or adopting the heresy of Universalism, all of which made a laughing stock of true Catholicism and that much easier for Satan to claim souls without resistance.
"How can we be sure?" slyly probed the suspicious Cardinal Kai-Jeng Hong-Ju from Peking.
The question came from one whom, truth be known, had no right to be here. He had been chosen by the Peoples' Republic of China to be represented in Rome. In truth, Hong-Ju was very much a member of the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Church, which still had not officially recognized the Pope of Rome as the spiritual authority for Catholics in China. Though John Paul had made many overtures to China, the world knew that China, like Russia was pulling the strings and the Pope would do what they wanted. While he spoke of the need to respect humanity, China, Russia, much of Europe and the entire United States continued taking human life by abortions - the ultimate symbol of man's inhumanity to man.
This further isolated the underground Catholic Church in China who so opposed murder in the womb. That was another reason the abortion sympathizer Hong-Ju was granted a visa, while his counterpart Cardinal Yao Seng Ling had been detained in Taipei. There was no mix-up in passports as the Chinese government had claimed, but rather a direct intervention by the communists to prevent Cardinal Ling from attending. Shades of the persecution of the late Cardinal Ignatius Kung Pin-mei.
Early in his pontificate, Pope Clement XV had tried to get tough, had tried to distance the Peoples' Republic Church from the true Catholics by officially recognizing the underground Church. He knew the repercussions, but he knew also he had to speak out. As expected the Chinese government had only dug in deeper and Clement, like Pius XII during the Nazi occupation of Rome, realized that he had to take it slower than he had hoped. Thus discretion was the better part of valor. It would take much, much longer than he had anticipated. Slowly but surely the stones of solidity would need to replace the fluid of solidarity which had only played further into the hands of those intent on weakening the Church and desiring her destruction.
Oh, how much had already been destroyed! But the Basilisk would not rest until all had been destroyed!
Next: PART IV: The Shrouding ELEVENTH CHAPTER Episode Four
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