“Hey, Cardinal!” And Other Pithy Observations On The Selection Of A New Pope
So, I hereby apply for the position of Catholic-In-Residence at Angry Black Lady Chronicles. Ex-Catholic-In-Residence might be more accurate, but once the Church of Rome has its claws in you, it never really lets go.
In any event, I’m kind of perfect for the job, because I was raised Catholic and if you stick a microphone in front of my face, I’ll say stuff. That, apparently, is all you need to get yourself on any one of the major teevee networks these days.
Also, I once met and chatted briefly with Chicago’s archbishop, Francis Cardinal George, in the lobby of the office building where I used to work. I hailed him thusly: “Hey, Cardinal!” True story. In my defense, he was about to get into the elevator, so I had to get his attention quickly … and, weirdly, those were the words that came to me. Nonetheless, we exchanged pleasantries for maybe ten seconds. I’d say that gives me at least as much knowledge of the affairs of the Holy See as ninety-plus-percent of the random folks interviewed on television and radio the past few weeks.
Plus, you have to give me bonus points for knowing that Cardinal goes between the first and last name: It’s Francis Cardinal George, goddammit, not Cardinal Francis George.
I mention all this because, if you don’t know, there’s a new pope, Pope Francis, and talking about the pope and Catholics and the Holy Roman Church and, for all I know, BVMMOG* herself, is all the rage these days. All the cool kids are doing it.
I have to admit, though, it’s all very unsettling. For one thing, the media’s obsessive coverage of all things pope-y is irritating even to people like me who have lifelong ties to the Church (whether we like it or not). If it’s tiresome to me, I’m pretty sure it’s worse for the rest of you. But every time the media obsesses over the Catholic Church, there’s another unpleasant side effect: People have a tendency to say what they really think about Catholics. Like the two guys – obviously not Catholic – who had a casual discussion in the locker room of the local Y today about whether or not Catholics qualify as Christians. When one of them insisted that, yes, in a technical sense, Catholics are Christians because they believe in God (?!), the other begrudgingly conceded: Well, maybe so, but they’re not Christians like we’re Christians.
You’ll be happy to know I did not say: Thanks for reminding me why my Irish ancestors couldn’t own property in their own land.
Look, I’ll be the first to concede that I, personally, have never been the victim of anti-Catholic prejudice. That’s largely because I live in a pretty Catholic part of the world and, let’s face it, aside from the kind of thing I heard in the Y locker room today, Americans are pretty copasetic about Catholics. Still, growing up Catholic in the ’60s and ’70s, you couldn’t not know it existed. Even as a very young child, adults would look at me derisively and say, Oh, you must be Catholic, whenever they learned that I ten older brothers and sisters. Kind of a weird thing to say to a little kid when you think about it. They were talking about my parents, you know, doing it. Like that’s a normal thing to say to a four year old.
And even when I was in high school – and this was in the late 1970s, mind you – the private tennis club in an adjacent town had rules barring the usual suspects from membership: Blacks, Jews, and Catholics. They claimed they didn’t enforce those rules anymore, but the rules were still on the books. Just in case, I suppose.
So, yeah, I grew up with that knowledge. The knowledge that people thought we were weird, that we belonged if not to a cult then to some oddball social club – not a real religion – that observed strange rituals, what with all the standing and sitting and kneeling and the Latin and the Greek, and observed strange holidays, and had overly restrictive dietary rules. I mean, not like the Jews, fer Chrissakes, but still. Fasting and eating fish on Fridays and whatnot.
And what’s with those fucking ashes, you freak?
In a sense, it’s good though, because as a white dude it’s as close as I’ll ever come to knowing that creepy feeling you get when people are talking about you like you’re not even in the room, only you are, and you can hear their whole conversation, and you want to shout, HEY, I’M RIGHT HERE. I CAN HEAR YOU, YOU KNOW. Women and gay people and people of color must feel that way all the time, when (to paraphrase Tina Fey) gray-faced men with two-dollar haircuts talk about their lives and their rights and the things that affect them on a day-to-day basis, like being white and male makes you an expert not simply on your own small corner of the world, but on everybody else’s corners of the world, because you’re the fucking gold standard of being human, your experiences matter more than everybody else’s, and everybody has to measure their everything against yours.
What? I’m a reasonable man. My existence is more real than yours.
Sometimes, having been raised Catholic and knowing what people really think about Catholics – not the institution of the Church, the sins of which are to numerous to count, but people like me who were born into it, maybe derived some value from it for some part of our lives – what people really think about us, sometimes that gives me a little glimmer of what it’s like to be Other.
It’s a tiny glimmer, to be sure. It’s almost imperceptible. But it’s enough every so often to make me stop talking and actually listen to people with different backgrounds and different experiences, which is not an easy thing to do for a white Irish Catholic male. So, for that reason, it’s something I’m grateful for.
And it’s also an excuse to play Shane Macgowan and the Popes on a day like to day:
Because sometimes you just have to say: KMRIA**
* That’s “Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother Of God,” for the uninitiated.
** “Kiss My Royal Irish Arse,” of course.
David von Ebers
Latest posts by David von Ebers (see all)
- Embracing the Revolutionary Mandela - December 9, 2013
- Illinois Prosecutor Faces Discipline for Racist Remarks - December 5, 2013
- RIP Junior Murvin: A Reggae Legend Passes On - December 5, 2013