“Renounced not resigned,” I pointed out to my friend who was writing an article on Pope Benedict’s surprise announcement.
“What difference does it make?” he replied.
“That is a question that I, a man of simple faith whose Catholicism came from the successors of Padre Damaso, must leave to the pontification of pedants and pundits like you,” I replied.
“I don’t have time to split hairs, I’m rushing to meet my deadline,” he said, irritated.
“Deadline is the cross that journalists stuck in old technologies must carry,” I told the newspaperman. “By the way,” I said to soften the blow, “did you read the Associated Press report “Secret oaths, chants in ritual to choose Pope”?
“It’s cinematic.” I read an excerpt from the report, “The conclave begins with the cardinals in their red cassocks filing into the Sistine Chapel, chanting the monophonic Litany of Saints followed by another sacred song, “Veni, Creator Spiritus,” imploring the intervention of the Holy Spirit and saints as they take their places before Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment.” The cardinals place their hand on the Gospel and promise to observe absolute secrecy both during and after the conclave, and to “never lend support or favor to any interference, opposition or any other form of intervention … in the election of the Roman Pontiff.”
“Why an oath to observe absolute secrecy?” the newspaperman asked, finally pushing his laptop aside when he realized I was not going to let him finish his work undisturbed.
“It’s a hangover from the time when the Kings of France, Spain, or the Holy Roman Emperor could intervene in Papal elections…”
“But that veto power was abolished a hundred years ago,” he replied.
“I know. So maybe there is something else they want to keep secret. Something anachronistic and highly embarrassing.”
“You know the story of the female Pope?”
“That’s just a legend,” he replied. “There are no official records on that. She is not even listed in the roll of Popes.”
“But the legend persists,” I persisted. “And from that legend – if it is really only a legend – comes the story of The Test.”
“C’mon man,” pulling back his laptop, “that ritual where the elected Pope took his pants off for the College of Cardinals was just a scene in the historical fiction series The Borgias.”
“I’m not referring to that scene,” I said. “That was a toned-down-for-TV version of the real test described in manuscripts all the way back to the 12th century.”
“What does legend say?”
“Because of Pope Joan, newly elected Popes were made to sit in a chair with a hole in it, a stedes stercoraria or latrine chair. A designated cardinal would then feel around for testicles and upon confirmation would announce, “Duos habet et bene pendentes” (He’s got two and they hang nicely),” I recounted.
“Really?” he asked, incredulous.
“Well, it’s a Men Only club,” I replied.
“I know it’s a Men Only club!” he said. “What I find incredible is the test you described. Do they really have that test?”
“Yup,” I replied. “Like the old conclave saying goes, “Habemus duo ante habemus papam”.
“What does that mean?” he asked.
“It takes two to tango.”