Best of Breslin: A Giggle at the Old Cardinals
The legend reports from Rome on the papal elections that would pick John Paul II.
ROME — In the evening at the Vatican, Mercedes cars carrying cardinals were waved through the gates at the start of the first meeting since their pope had died. They had much business, the Vatican said, but it actually was the first gathering of the executive board, the nominating board, of a political organization. Anybody in the Catholic Church over the rank of monsignor usually can be considered a professional politician.
Within a month, these cardinals, 115 aging males, will lock themselves in a narrow chapel, from time to time stare in prayer at Michelangelo’s ceiling, and then return to the business of grabbing arms and counting votes and naming a pope. A male pope named by male cardinals. With even the attendants, hovering outside the locked doors, being male. Because the old men who run the Catholic Church, even with such graphic evidence of man’s frailness in front of them yesterday, still regard themselves as so vastly superior to women that it is sinful to allow a woman to be ordained.
The cardinals are going about the naming of a new pope with an arrogance from the ages. There shall be no change in Rome to reflect what is surely one of the two significant movements of our time, that of women rising.
On the way home from the Vatican, passing through a shabby neighborhood, the car had to stop for a nun, who carried garbage from a doorway that was only a step back from the street and the rushing traffic. We stopped and walked back to her. She smiled pleasantly and leaned in the doorway of her residence, the convent of a grammar school, and nodded rapidly as the question of women was brought up.
“There will be no women as priests,” she said.
“Do you think that is right?” she was asked.
“No. Some women are ready to become priests. ”
“Some are not. But you will see that there will be many deacons, men, doing the work priests once did. No women will become priests.”
“That is a matter of women becoming equal to men,” she said.
“When will that be?”
“In this church, I think never.”
“Even with what is going on in the rest of the world?” she was asked.
“The rest of the world?” she said. “America is not the rest of the world. In the rest of the world, women are regarded as they are here. They are not equal to men.”
She gave her name as Sister Felicita Suore. A question about her age or background was dismissed with a glare.
“What do you feel,” she was asked, “is the church’s reasoning for this?”
“I think they got this way because Jesus Christ was a man,” she said. A slight smile softened her serious face. “I read today in the Communist Party newspaper that they will find it very difficult to find a new pope because none of them are qualified to be pope.”
“Do they let you read the Communist newspaper?” she was asked.
“Certainly, we have complete freedom. What you learn when you read depends upon your maturity, how you decide whether what you read is true or not.”
“Is the Communist Party newspaper correct in what it states?” she was asked.
She waved a hand to dismiss us and stepped back into her school, to Scuola Pontifica, a world where women are officially inferior. She giggled as she shut the door.