A homeless, begrimed indigent sleeps on a forgotten street in Rome. He is noteworthy for the tattered red watered silk that he wears along with tassels that have seen better days. The destitute one covers himself with the newspapers L’Osservatore Romano (the Vatican newspaper), the Sherman County Times and a recent column of Grand Island news from Jeff Bahr. On the rare occasion a tourist walks by, the poor man reaches his hand up and begs, “Brother, can you spare a bitcoin?” How did a cardinal of the Holy Church come to this? Yes, he who once sat upon a throne (not THAT throne) and directed the lives of legions of subordinates and washed his cardinal’s ring daily to remove the lip stains of sycophants now finds himself with a penurious problem.
The genesis of the story for this cardinal of the Church is, as always, with an evil and calculating Pope. This conniving Holy Father who sides with the poor and constantly preaches that the shepherds of the Church should have the smell of the sheep about them has dared to lower the incomes of Vatican cardinals by ten percent. In US dollars that means they go from 6,000 a month to 5400 per month. Living on only $5400 a month? Look at the expenses: cardinal clothes, $200 a month (socks are expensive in the Eternal City); $1500 for meals and entertainment each month, lobster and Osso buco alla Milanese prices are staples of a Prince of the Church’s table; who can get a good bottle of wine anymore for less than $100 (not the cheap MD2020 swill the Americans drink)? Monthly rent runs to at least two large ($2000) a month; and that only gets you a studio apartment with the backside view of the Coliseum. Each cardinal was eking out a living on a meager monthly six large, now 600 less. Mama mia!
Is it any wonder that the Vatican prelates depend on American cardinals, among others, to slip them a few bucks once in a while? The former, fun loving, foremost funnel of cash to the cardinals was an American now called Ted McCarrick. Ted was noted for his generosity to his brother cardinals, often handing out envelopes filled with thousands of dollars of filthy lucre (that’s not all he spread around, but that’s another rambling). Ted got on the bad side of Pope Francis when he didn’t smell like his sheep and even failed to identify a picture of a four footed mutton. Still worse, Ted violated the Holy Father’s holy grail of expectations, he was self-referential. If you don’t know what self referential means, you’re with most of us. At the risk of over simplifying, self referential means “Me, me, me, me, me…” Finding an episcopal prelate without a notable aplenty of narcissism in Rome and elsewhere is like finding a bishop in a brothel (sorry, bad example).
The Holy Father is insistent about caring for the poor, a bell that has not been rung in Rome for a long time. His choice of the papal name Francis comes with an unrelenting choice for the poor. It is not in words that the choice comes, but in action. Building showers and restrooms near St. Peters to care for the homeless; putting a cardinal in charge of caring for the poor in the immediate neighborhood and all around the Eternal City, just a beginning in the Pope’s heart. The Church at times finds itself too involved in politics, policies and power struggles and loses sight of caring for each other and the less fortunate. We constantly remind ourselves that Jesus wants us to be with the people, the sheep, and not in national notions of what the Church should become.
Phone call from New York; Cardinal Dolan wants me to spot him a twenty til payday.