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Death of a Pope

Copyright 2019 JT Evergreen


Published by JT Evergreen

at Smashwords


This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Smashwords.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.


Table of Contents

Acknowledgements

Prelude to Murder

Father Marc

The Conversation

The Silken Noose

The Cross

Pope Angelo

About JT Evergreen

Other books by JT Evergreen

Connect with JT Evergreen


Acknowledgements

Many thanks to Khris Lawrentz for his tireless proofreading.


Prelude to Murder

The Bishop of Rome approached the small wooden door hidden in a storage room of Casa Santa Marta, the residence of visiting clerics. He guessed the tiny door could easily be mistaken for a storage cabinet — it was no larger than 2 feet wide by 5 feet tall. There was nothing to identify it but he knew its name. It was called Cancello del Paradiso; and it was off limits to everyone except for him and the gardeners. He inserted his key into the escutcheon and heard the lock tumble as he turned the key. The door bounced open an inch. He replaced the key in his pocket and pulled the door open.


Beyond the doorway lay the lush gardens that were provided for his personal use. It was there for him to meditate, to be with God. He bent his head slightly and stepped sideways through the doorway to preserve the cleanliness of his cassock. His housekeeper would give him ‘the look’ over the rims of her glasses should he dirty it intentionally. When he reached the other side, he left the door ajar as he had asked one of the sisters to bring tea.


He sighed as he turned and gazed upon the beauty of the garden. While he was there, he would leave behind the heavy burdens of the position he held as head of the Catholic Church, and become, for a few moments, Raffaele Vincenzo Valentini again, the simple man of God he had been before accepting his destiny as Pontiff.


As he moved toward the bubbling fountain at the center of the garden, he noticed the figure of a priest sitting quietly on one of the benches. He thought it odd, seeing the door had been locked and there was no other entrance or exit within the garden. He approached the figure from behind. Before he could say anything, the priest sensed his presence, got up and turned to Raffaele. He was about to genuflect when the Pontiff waved his hand, “None of that.”


Raffaele paused in front of the priest and looked deeply into the beautiful face of the young man. He felt a spiritual quality emanating from him the likes of which he had never experienced from anyone else. Though it was still April and the flowering plants in the garden were dormant, he noticed the distinct perfume of roses and other flowers surrounding him. He smiled at the priest. The priest smiled back.


Finally, Raffaele asked, “Who are you and what are you doing here?”


“My name is Frederick Monahan. Please call me Freddie, and I’ve come to talk with you.”


Raffaele knew immediately who was standing before him. He was speechless as he tried to grasp what was happening.


“Perhaps you would care to sit, Holy Father.”


“Raffaele, please, and yes, that is an excellent idea.” They settled on a semicircular stone bench which allowed them to face one another in comfort.


As they sat in silence, small birds began to gather about the fountain to drink of its water. Two of them flew over and landed on Freddie’s knee. He put his hand out and one of the little birds jumped onto his hand. "Looks like a Black-Capped Chickadee.” He held it up to eye level. "Hi there, little guy.” Freddie crooned to the bird. Then another flew up and landed on his hand, next to the first. “Must be its mate.” Four more flew from the fountain and managed to get on Freddie’s hand. They squawked with their beaks open and their wings fluttering. Raffaele and Freddie laughed at the antics of these small, beautiful birds. “Looks like the whole family is on my hand.”


“It does indeed.” Raffaele was all smiles.


Freddie finally raised his hand and sent them on their way. Another bird landed on Freddie’s shoulder. He could not see it properly and asked Raffaele, who he knew was a birder, for identification of the small creature. Raffaele moved closer to Freddie for a better view. "It looks like a Thrush, but I can’t identify it exactly."


Soon the bubbling fountain was populated with all varieties of small birds. Raffaele blossomed with the opportunity of identifying them. A sparrow lighted on his cassock. He extended his finger and it hopped on. "Just a Common House Sparrow, but what a beauty."


Freddie had another bird land on his leg. "I’m not sure what this is,” he looked to Raffaele.


“I’m pretty sure it’s a Black Throated Sparrow. I’ve never seen one around here before,” he laughed with delight.


The comradery between these men opened the door to the serious conversation that was about to follow. Their play with the birds was interrupted when Sister Mary Paul brought the tray of tea Raffaele had asked for earlier. She was surprised to see Raffaele with another priest as she set the tray down and withdrew quietly, closing the door to the garden as she left.


They drank their tea in silence. Then Raffaele opened the conversation. “I know who you are, Freddie. I don’t know all the details, but I can imagine that coming to visit with me was not arrived at by a chance decision. Would you care to explain yourself?”


“You’re absolutely correct, Raffaele. There are many of us who are concerned about the current status of the Catholic Church. To be quite blunt, it’s bleeding to death. If something isn’t done immediately to stop the hemorrhaging, it will die. The point of no return has not been reached … at least not yet. It is prudent, however, that you begin now, regardless of the opposition you may encounter, before it becomes too late. And you must remember that you are not alone. There are many who will champion the causes you set into motion. Their support and influence, though unseen, will be far reaching. And, there is no use denying that there will be opposition to the changes you institute, even danger to your personal safety. You will be responsible for unseating those in an institution that has grown out of control because of lax oversight by your predecessors. Some, I fear, may take steps I do not wish to contemplate.”


“I realize what you are saying, Freddie. Please be assured that my personal safety is of no importance to me.”


“Well, it is of importance to us, my friend. Please realize that we are not capable of interfering in any way on a personal level should the unthinkable be perpetrated.


“Unfortunately, you are the only one who can institute these changes. Without you, it will collapse, and be worse than it is now. You told reporters, shortly after you were nominated, that the church does not have a political nature, but a spiritual one, that the Holy Spirit guides the church. Well, you were wrong, dead wrong.” Raffaele sat up straight and looked into Freddie’s eyes as if he were the devil himself.


Freddie recognized Raffaele’s silent protest, “Anytime you wish me to leave, just say the word. I have no intentions of mincing words with you on these matters. Either you believe what I’m saying, or you don’t. There will be no debate.”


Raffaele sighed and settled down.


“The only way the Holy Spirit can have any effect upon the physical plane is through individuals dedicating themselves to meditation and communion with Deity. You are one of them. And you would be wise to seek out and gather together those within the Church who are doing the same or need your guidance in attaining that state of blessed communion. And don’t delude yourself, there are very few. Greed, self-interest, and ignorance of the Truth have all but taken over the Catholic Church. It is your responsibility to turn the tide, and that’s one of the reasons I’m here – to help.”


Freddie could tell Raffaele was feeling the impact of what he was saying. He paused but he was not finished, “You also said on that occasion that no one can understand the church without understanding its spiritual purpose. Just what is the spiritual purpose, Raffaele? You must clarify that purpose in your mind and begin retraining those within the church who have lost touch with that purpose.”


Raffaele got up and adjusted his cassock, “I need to walk. Please, join me.” He turned and slowly began walking along one of the many pathways in the garden. Freddie trailed behind him for a minute before catching up with him. They walked together in silence.


Raffaele began the conversation again, “On the day of the election, when the vote rose over the seventy-seven votes needed to be elected, Cardinal Hummes hugged me, kissed me, and said, ‘Don’t forget the poor.’ I believe that’s when I decided to be called after St. Francis of Assisi, the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves, and protects creation — with which we currently do not have such a good relationship.


“How my heart aches to have a church that is poor and for the poor. I did not realize at the time how difficult it would be to achieve that goal. The little that I have done is hardly worth mentioning.” He stopped on the pathway and turned to Freddie. “There is so much to be done. Tell me where you think I should begin.”


Freddie’s heart leapt when he heard those words. That was the opening he had been waiting for. He put his arm through Raffaele’s and they continued to walk in silence. Eventually, “There are many things I wish to talk about. But please, remember, even though you will not always see me, I will be with you every step of the way until victory is achieved. Right now, your heart is the church, and we must do everything possible to spread the flame that emanates from your heart.”


Raffaele took Freddie’s hand and kissed it. “Thank you for saying that. I feel so strongly what you are saying and at the same time I wonder if it is evident to anyone else.” They walked for a while and finally settled on a bench in the corner of the garden against one of its walls. “You mentioned bleeding to death earlier.”


“Yes, and the root cause is this man-made law of celibacy. The diminishing number of priests in the church has become critical. More young men are leaving than are entering the service of the Church. It has been said that this discipline is a gift from the church. Well, it is not. It’s a curse. And I think you know that as well as I do.”


“True celibacy is a gift from God. When an individual has evolved spiritually to a point where the need for anything in this world is no longer there, including the need for a wife or partner, it is then that celibacy becomes that gift. All of the sexual energies of the individual are now focused on communication with Deity — and therein lies the blessing.


“What exists now is unbelievable pain and needs to be stopped immediately. It is within your power to release your priests and nuns from this unspeakable horror. Let each individual decide for himself or herself how they are to proceed through life — and with the blessing of the church, not the penance that is often prescribed when the rule is broken. And I’m talking about the physical side of the celibacy law, not the spiritual side. Every person who comes into the church to serve will have no difficulty in keeping the spiritual side of the law if their intent is to truly serve God. It would be a cruel God, indeed, who advocated the celibacy law as it is currently implemented.” Freddie paused and sat back and rested. Raffaele had taken Freddie’s hand and was not about to let it go. He was feeding like a vampire on the spirituality that was flowing from Freddie who was delighted to let him feed.


As the afternoon waned, Raffaele invited him to come to his study and continue their conversation. Freddie politely refused and promised to be in the garden at the same hour the next day.


While he was still talking to Raffaele he dematerialized and left Raffaele alone.


Fini


Father Marc

Father Marc Carlini placed his mass vestments into the cathedral changing room closet and closed the door. He had been ordained ten years earlier; now, he wondered if that had been the right choice. To outward appearances, he was successful in attending to the parishioners of Saint Benedicts. Within, doubt lingered as to his effectiveness. His lack of oneness with God troubled him.


His longing for communication with God had begun at an early age. The attention required for his five younger siblings left him unnoticed by his loving parents – until his fourteenth birthday when he mentioned he wished to become a priest.


His surprised and pleased parents spoke at length with Father Geffert, their Parish priest, to be certain Marc received the guidance he would need. Father Geffert assured them he and Marc had already discussed the possibilities. “Marc is cognizant of the responsibilities required in following this life path. I’ve provided him with a study schedule to follow in high school, to prepare him for seminary instruction.”


Marc was roused by a soft knock at the changing room door. It was Johnathan, one of his altar boys. “Is there anything else I can do for you, Father?”


“No, Johnathan, and thank you for your help this morning.” They walked together to the exit door. As Jonathan left the building, Marc thanked him again. Then he walked into the empty sanctuary and sat down in one of the pews.


His struggle to achieve communication with God, to whom he had dedicated his life, left him lost, and alone. In silent prayer he reached out, ‘Father, please help me.’


A sense of peace settled over Marc as he meditated. He became aware of someone quietly sitting down in the pew behind him, but it was the subtle scent of roses that roused him, causing him to turn around. It was a young priest he had never seen before. He noticed the gold cross encrusted with green jewels which hung around the priest’s neck.


“Good morning, Father Marc,” came a gentle greeting.


“Good morning, Father, have we met?”


“Oh, no, but I am aware of your troubled heart,” the young priest smiled with kindness.


“Who am I speaking with?”


“I’m Father Frederick Monahan. You may call me Freddie.”


Marc wondered how this man knew the secrets of his heart.


Freddie stepped into the aisle. “Why don’t we walk into the garden? It’s such a beautiful morning.”


They moved out of the sanctuary into the meditation garden at the side of the cathedral. Freddie led the way to a stone bench near the bubbling fountain at the center of the garden, and invited Marc to join him.


Marc looked into the face of his new acquaintance, “You mentioned my troubled heart?”


“Yes, I did mention that didn’t I.” Freddie gazed into the confused but trusting face of this dedicated young priest.


“You know, but how do you know? I’ve never spoken of my misgivings to anyone.”


“Of course you have. You’ve been telling God about them for a long time. He wearied of hearing about it and sent me,” Freddie smiled at Marc, who looked as if someone had just pulled the rug out from under him.


Tears welled in Marc’s eyes as he contemplated Freddie’s words. “But I… I...”


“It’s okay Marc. There’s no hurry. We can sit quietly for a moment – before I really start dumping on you,” he took Marc’s hand and squeezed it to reassure him all was well.


An aged nun trundled over to the seated priests. “Good morning, Fathers. I have kitchen duty this morning. Is there anything I can get for you?”


“Sister Agnes, good morning,” Freddie greeted the surprised nun. “We would like tea if it’s no trouble,” he turned to Marc, “How about you?” Marc nodded. Freddie turned to Sister Agnes and smiled.


“Have we met before?” Sister Agnes whispered.


“As a matter of fact, we have – many years ago.” She looked at Freddie in disbelief, turned, and returned to the kitchen to fetch the tea.


Marc regained his composure as he overheard the exchange between Freddie and Sister Agnes. “I suppose you know what’s in her heart as well.”


“Oh, yes, as a matter of fact, I do. Sister Agnes is a good old soul who has been through a great deal in her life. Her spirit is strong; she is a blessing to have around and you may trust her implicitly and without question.”


“At the moment, I’m not sure of anything,” Marc stared into the bubbling fountain.


“You chastise yourself because you believe there is no communion between you and God.”


Marc sat up and looked into Freddie’s eyes. “God speaks to you all the time, Marc. You radiate what he communicates to you in the homilies you compose. Your Sunday audiences benefit from what you have to say.


“God communicates through you in the everyday tasks you fulfill in tending to the flock you are entrusted with. What in the world did you expect God to do, open up the heavens and speak to you in English? God does not speak English, or French, or German, or Dutch.


“You’ve been communicating with God from the very beginning — long before you became a priest. I’m amazed you haven’t figured that out by now. The selflessness you have attained enhances the quality of that communication. With each step Marc Carlini takes to diminish himself, the Presence of God has a better opportunity to flow forth and heal the illusions of this physical world – what you call misery, poverty, suffering, and unanswered prayer.


“You’ve learned how to let go and let God. Your mistake has been expecting something specific from God which will never come. Have no expectations of God or anyone else you meet, and you will never be disappointed. Your only responsibility is to give everything you are capable of giving, whether it be love, wisdom, or the shirt off your back if need be.”


“That’s all?” Marc was astonished.


“That’s all,” Freddie confirmed with a large grin, “No bolts out of the blue, and no visions of angels descending from Heaven.”


“It’s the misery, poverty, suffering, and unanswered prayer that troubles me most. I thought gaining communication with God would solve those problems.”


“And it will. But you have been attempting to storm the gates of Heaven. And that will not work.”


“I don’t understand?”


“No one can enter the gates of Heaven. There is no room in Heaven for anyone except God. Yes, I know. Now you really don’t understand. It’s all about dying to who you think you are. The prodigal son returning to the Father’s house if you will. The camel passing through the eye of the needle. Scripture is filled with analogies which are mere stories, and make little sense until you catch the key, and begin to understand what is meant.


“The one I prefer is the impossibility of a rich man entering into the Kingdom of Heaven. According to scripture, it is easier for that proverbial camel to pass through the eye of a needle. Marc, you are that rich man.”


Marc chuckled, “Me, rich?”


“Yes, you. Many of the beliefs you have about yourself are the riches which are getting in the way of communication with God. The spark of the Divine is within you as it is within every living soul — including the rocks in this garden. But that’s another story which I may explain some day.


“The spark of the Divine within you is covered over and blocked by your persona, your personality, which you have been accumulating from birth. Now is the time to reverse that process. You must realize there is no substance to who you think you are. It’s the dying daily referred to in Scripture. This is accomplished through study, meditation, and prayer. They are the stepping stones to Heaven, which you have been using without realizing it. You’re halfway there, Marc.”


“But, when I’ve died, what’s left?” He looked at Freddie who smiled in silence, waiting for the answer to come forth from Marc himself.


Marc thought for a moment then turned to Freddie, “God. That’s all that remains.”


“Bingo,” Freddie grinned. “Now the interesting part. You still have your personality at your disposal. You will continue – using it, but it will no longer be using you. You will use it in communicating with your parishioners. You will appear to be the same, but they will sense a difference without knowing what it is.”


“It’s the act of praying that escapes me. I see my parishioners praying for this, that, and the other; and yet, nothing seems to happen. And sometimes the situation worsens,” Marc shook his head and frowned at his lack of understanding.


“Praying with words will never get you off the ground, my friend. If you want to fly, you must dispense with the words.”


“Prayer without words?”


“Yes. The true meaning of prayer is without words. And when you pray without words, what are you doing? You are listening. And the only thing worthwhile listening for is the voice of God, that still small voice within while experiencing the Presence of God. And that is how you attain the communication you have been seeking. One split second of communication, through listening, through prayer, and the imprisoned splendor within you is released. When that occurs, all the other things which trouble you will vanish. In the Presence of God, there is no conflict. There is only perfection. But, remember — as soon as you have God and something else, you have slipped back into the mundane.”


“But is constant prayer possible?”


“Yes, it is. It is not necessary for you to be on your knees with your hands clasped together to pray. You can walk along a busy street and pray – listening for Divine guidance. And no one will be the wiser as to what you are doing. In fact, it is important no one knows what you are doing. Whether you are listening to a confession or conferring with a troubled parishioner, you can still be in prayer by listening to the still small voice within. It takes practice, but it can be done and should be done. After all, what else do you have to do?” Freddie laughed.


Marc shook his head, “How could I have not known this? It’s so perfect, so right, so simple.”


“Well, you know now. And, you can forget about your crown of thorns. It’s an unnecessary burden you have been wearing for far too long.”


“What do you mean, crown of thorns?” his look was pensive.


“The burden the church has laid on you with its unnecessary rules and regulations – its dogma. You chose the priesthood because it seemed the only way of fulfilling the inner calling to serve God,” he looked at Marc with a deep spiritual love and understanding. “You can serve God on your own if you wish. God does not need the church, he needs blessed souls like you through whom he can communicate with the rest of his children. And I’m not suggesting you leave the priesthood. I’m telling you this so you can go forward as a priest of God and not as a priest of the Catholic Church. No one will be the wiser, they will only notice the difference. You will be free.”


“But the dogma, I swore to uphold it,” the look of conflict on Marc’s face brought a quick and sharp reply.


“You swore to uphold man-made laws. They have nothing to do with God. You have everything to do with God. Your allegiance is to the Almighty, plain and simple and no one else – ever. Anything else is superfluous. Of course, you want to keep that under your hat. No use reaping unnecessary rewards from your so-called superiors.”


Marc leaned forward, put his elbows on his knees and rested his face in his hands. His shoulders heaved slightly as his inner child was born in the manger of his mind, and he wept with joy. It was the answer he had been seeking for so long. After regaining his composure he sat up smiling. “Thank you, Freddie.”


“If God needs to whisper in your ear, he will do so, and you will hear what he has to say in English, or whatever language you choose. When you’re writing, his thoughts will come to you as a rippling stream. All you have to do is translate those thoughts onto paper, or into the computer.


“The wisdom of God will flow from you as easily as you communicate with your parishioners – whether face to face or from the pulpit.


“You have been accomplishing what you thought you were not accomplishing. Perhaps it is a good thing. You’ve learned a valuable lesson which you can pass on to your parishioners. They have the same capacity as you have in communicating with the Divine.”


Sister Agnes returned and set the tray of tea down. Then she turned to Freddie, “Where?”


“Where? In Germany.”


“Where in Germany?”


“Seesen.”


Sister Agnes took a step backward, “That was my birthplace. I was a young girl there,” Agnes’ eyes flashed at Freddie, knowing he would have no reply.


“Yes, I know. And you were a cute little girl, with those blond braids, tied with red ribbons you insisted upon,” Freddie sipped his tea and smiled at Agnes.


Sister Agnes glared at Freddie a moment then turned away as she returned to the kitchen, grumbling to herself, “Nicht möglich.”


“What did she say?”


“She doesn’t think it’s possible,” Freddie laughed. “There goes a faith in God enviable by everyone on this planet.”


“What do you mean?”


“Her past. Do you know about her past?”


“Only that she survived World War Two and immigrated to the United States.”


“As a young girl, she was imprisoned in Ravensbrück concentration camp for ten months. Through a clerical error, she was released. She found her way to the Franciscan Sisters of Charity and was accepted as one of their own. I believe she wrote a book about her faith in God through the many trials she endured during the war.


“It will eventually dawn on her why I know what I know about her.” Freddie paused and looked after Sister Agnes. “If ever you are in need, Sister Agnes will be there for you no matter what. She knows more about you than you realize. She has a great love for you, Marc. Never underestimate it or doubt it.


“And now, it’s time for me to leave. My mission with you is complete,” he got up, removed the golden cross from around his neck and handed it to Marc.


Marc looked at the cross and then looked up into Freddie’s face. “What’s this?”


“This is for you, Marc. Keep it close to your heart. Your future will rise upon it.”


Marc got up, “Will I ever see you again? Be able to talk with you?” There was a faint pleading in his voice.


“If the need arises, I’ll be back. You can be sure of that,” he embraced Marc, “Farewell, my friend,” he drew back, looked into Marc’s eyes, smiled, kissed Marc’s cheek, turned and walked away. After a few steps, he stopped and turned around, “How’s your Italian?”


“So, so. Why?”


“Your mother speaks fluently does she not?”


“Yes, she does. My father does not, so she rarely uses it except when she speaks with her sisters.”


“Have your mother tutor you, or hire a tutor. You will need fluency soon,” Freddie smiled and turned away.


Marc watched as Father Frederick Monahan walked to the end of the garden path and opened the wooden door in the high stone garden wall. He turned back and smiled his farewell then left the garden, closing the door behind him.


Marc’s heart sank as he lost sight of Freddie. He stood a moment, gazing at the beautiful cross, the emeralds sparkled in the midday sun. He wondered about Freddie’s interest in his fluency in Italian.


He gave one last look at the closed garden door, took a deep breath of the lingering scent of roses and walked back to the cathedral.


Sister Agnes watched from the kitchen window. A knowing and loving smile flashed across her face as she hummed the melody to O Sanctissima, and continued her duties in the kitchen.


Fini


The Conversation

The sudden death of the Pope saddened the world, but the rumor he had been assassinated created a news media storm that not only impeded the nine days of mourning required by Canonical Law but harassed the College of Cardinals entering Rome to take part in the Papal Conclave to elect the next Pontiff.


The Interregnum of fifteen days, before the Conclave was to begin, was extended to the final twentieth day because of the unusual circumstances. On the twenty-first day after the Pope’s death, the College of Cardinals assembled in the Pauline Chapel of the Apostolic Palace invoking the assistance of the Holy Spirit after which they proceeded to the Sistine Chapel where they took the required solemn oath. The Master of Papal Liturgical Ceremonies – and the ecclesiastic chosen – finished their meditation with the College of Cardinals and departed the Sistine Chapel. The doors to the Chapel were then locked and sealed.


The Cardinals were in the process of reciting the prayers provided in the proper Ordo for the Conclave when the illumination within the Chapel began to increase until it became a blinding light.


As the light began to fade, the assembly of Cardinals was in disarray. Some were on their knees praying; others standing in a dazed state. Some pressed against the exit doors which would not open. As the light dissipated, the cardinals shrank back at the sight of the figure of a priest dressed in a formal black cleric’s robe. Around his neck hung a golden cross encrusted with sparkling emeralds. The priest said nothing while he waited for the assembly to become quiet.


At last, the priest spoke, "My name is Father Frederick Monahan. I’ve come to talk to you about many things – things requiring your immediate attention if the Catholic Church is to survive and flourish.


“For those of you who are concerned, the doors of this chamber will remain locked until I have finished speaking to you. Your attendance is required – without exception,” he paused and waited. One of the Cardinals rose and stepped forward, raising his index finger as if he were about to speak. Father Frederick stepped toward the cardinal. “You will sit down Cardinal Munsinger. You have nothing to say I have not already heard,” the Cardinal continued to approach. Freddie’s piercing stare stopped him in his tracks; he receded to his chair. Freddie cast his gaze over the entire assembly, “I know the secrets of your hearts. If any of you intend to cross swords with me, I suggest you give serious consideration to those intentions before you act.”


“My purpose in visiting you is multi-fold. The selection of a new Pope is, of course, paramount. I will speak of this later. The spiritual purpose and mission of this religious body have been abandoned long ago. It has given way to self-serving greed and political agendas which have all but smothered the spiritual guidance intended for its parishioners. This trend is about to be reversed with or without your participation. Pomp and circumstance are things of the past. Humility, a vow of poverty, and a true communion with deity will be hallmarks of the future.


“There is a misconception the Catholic Church is essential to the wellbeing of humanity. Nothing could be further from the truth. God does not need this church, nor any church. What God does require are selfless individuals, both male and female, who are willing to sacrifice themselves in every way in the service of God. Whether they be members of any organization or not is of no consequence or of any importance. Should I take a tally of selflessness in this assembly, the results would be sadly wanting.


“This house of Catholicism has taken on royal robes it is not entitled to. Picking the pockets of its parishioners to sustain this royal façade must and will come to an end. You, as the governing body, will henceforth set the example of the one it purports to follow, namely Jesus the Christ. In order to accomplish that, there will be an outer, but more importantly, an inner change of every individual who wishes to continue in the service of God and this church.


“While one person on this planet remains homeless or hungry, this community will take the vow of poverty which you will be required to sign,” he held a document aloft in his left hand. “Those of you who feel this vow is beneath your dignity will find your status within the church reduced to that of parishioner and nothing more. The terms of this vow are very clear.”


Voices rose, some Cardinals stood up as the realization of what Freddie had said sank into their consciousness. Freddie waited and then continued.


“I suggest you keep your opinions to yourself. I have no interest in hearing them. All of you have neglected your responsibility in guiding the spiritual needs and growth of those under your care – including your bishops, priests, deacons, and especially your parishioners. Attending those needs will be your focus from this moment forward.


“I’ve heard over and over again that these papacy conclaves are guided by the Holy Spirit. This is not true. Starting now, these conclaves will be guided by the Holy Spirit. The spiritual goal of this congregation will be redefined and established once more. And it will be in everyone’s best interest to make it a priority in their lives to nurture that goal. Nurturing the spiritual well-being of everyone you encounter is your responsibility, not only to confirmed members of this religious body but to all souls on the face of this planet. It is especially true of those who reject you. They remain the children of God under any and all circumstances and recognizing that is the least you can accomplish.


“It’s about time you begin to remember God’s example as put forth in Matthew 5:45 ‘… for He maketh His sun to rise on the wicked and on the good, maketh the rain fall upon the upright and the wrongdoers.’ How unfortunate it would be if he decided to show favoritism, deciding who does and who does not receive his Grace. Now is the time to take up those same reigns and begin conducting yourselves in the same selfless manner.


"The only way the Holy Spirit can have any effect here, or anywhere on the physical plane, is through individuals who dedicate themselves to selfless meditation and communion with the Infinite. Sad to say, there are few if any in this assembly who have achieved that altitude of prayer.


“This leads me to your first responsibility, the election of the Pontiff who will lead the nation of this church.


"There are many well-meaning, intelligent, and dedicated men among you. However, there is not one of you qualified for the position of Supreme Pontiff,” Father Frederick paused and then let the hammer fall. “Let it be further known, the blood of the dead Pope is on the hands of one of the attendees in this assembly.”


Muffled voices began. A few of the Cardinals rose in frustration; others looked to their neighbors to see if they were the ones referred to. Father Frederick waited quiet resumed.


“Seeking the Presence of God seems to have eluded you except for the lip service you pay which is worthless. You would be wise to follow the next Pope’s dedication to this state of being.


“There is one humble, enlightened, and God-fearing priest who is in attendance to one in this audience. Hidden beneath his babat is a cross, the same as the one you see hanging about my neck. When he is discovered, you, Cardinal Albertini, as the Dean of Cardinals, will perform the liturgy of consecration raising him to the station of Bishop. His name will be offered to the remainder of this body for acceptance as the next Supreme Pontiff.”


Freddie motioned for Cardinal Albertini to come forward and spoke to him in a hushed tone. “You are advised to make your selection of the three Cardinals required to witness the liturgy. I suggest you prepare yourself now, as this ceremony will come quickly.” Cardinal Albertini bowed his head and withdrew.


“The next, and final portion of this conversation deals with the changes to take place in Canon Law. These man-made laws are outdated and useless. They are causing more harm than any possible good. And do not delude yourselves that you can escape this responsibility. These changes will be made. There will be no debate. They will be accomplished post haste. Anyone who drags his feet will have a face to face conversation with me.


“The church is bleeding to death, and one of the root causes of this hemorrhaging is this man-made law of celibacy. The diminishing number of priests in the church has become critical. More young men are leaving the church than are entering the service of God and the church. This misguided law of celibacy, which has plagued the church for too long, will be struck down immediately.


“It has been trumpeted as a gift of the church. Forcing celibacy is not a gift and as such has resulted in pain, confusion, and scandals, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most if not all of you in this room have suffered the consequences of its enforcement. It is within your power to release your priests and nuns from this unspeakable horror. Let each individual decide for himself or herself how they are to live their lives – and with the blessing of the church, not the cruel penance inflicted when this evil rule is broken.


"And I am speaking of the physical side of celibacy – not the spiritual side. Every individual who comes into the church to serve God will have no difficulty maintaining the spiritual side of celibacy if their intent is to truly serve God. It would be a cruel God indeed who advocated a celibacy law as it is currently implemented – by force.


"In 835, the Council of Aix-la-Chapelle openly admitted that abortions and infanticide took place in convents and monasteries to cover up the activities of clerics. Bishop Ulrich argued from scripture and common sense that the only way to purify the church from the worst excesses of celibacy was to permit priests to marry. Obviously, no one listened to him and those excesses continue and are with us on an even broader scale today. You cannot put a cork in that bottle and not expect it to explode somewhere along the line.


"True celibacy is a gift from God, not the Catholic Church. When an individual soul has evolved spiritually to such a degree where they are truly in this world, but not of it – when there is no longer the desire for husband, or wife, or companion, or the things of this world – it is only then that celibacy becomes a gift. And not a gift to the individual, but a gift to the rest of humanity. The energies of these individuals are happily focused on communication with God. The positive results are endless – healings, spiritual knowledge, the list goes on as these few individuals become channels for the Divine. The priest I have in mind as your leader is such a man.


"I know only too well the position the church has taken on abortion and a woman’s right to choose. The primary problem is that the church has stepped away from, and abandoned its spiritual purpose for existence.


"It has stepped down into the mundane level of consciousness where it has no business being in the first place.


“Should the church continue to insist on functioning at that level, then it must take on the full responsibilities of the man-made law it has created. Forbidding abortion immediately calls forth the responsibilities the church must adhere to before and after an unwanted child is born – from the psychological to the financial needs of all involved. Of paramount importance is the well-being of the newborn infant.


A dispensation clause in the abortion law is absolutely essential to prevent the birth of the physically or mentally deformed fetus. The argument that life begins at conception is irrelevant in this dispensation. Besides, there is no Scriptural evidence this is true other than the assumptions a group of misguided men made in the 1960s. Even if it were true, which it is not, I don't see those championing that claim, showing up to take care of the malformed infants. They wave their banners against abortion with great authority and then conveniently disappear when it's their turn to take responsibility for the results of their mistaken ideology. Animals are dealt with in a more compassionate and humane way.


“It would be far more prudent for the church to return to the spiritual pathway and leave the abortion issue to the parents thereby freeing them from the fear of retribution which the church has hung over their heads for far too long.


"It is utter nonsense when the hierarchy of the church claims it is the will of God. It is not the will of God – it is the will of man and nothing more. The church has elevated man-made traditions over the sovereign Word of God, which Jesus condemned. Where in the Holy Bible can you find - infant baptism, the mass, transubstantiation, celibate priests and nuns, confession to priests, last rites, purgatory, praying to Mary, and the saints, praying for the dead, one true church, papal infallibility, statues, rosary, and penance. You cannot.


"The abortion stance the church has taken is essentially a wicked law created by man, not God. You cannot administer a wicked law impartially; you can only punish and destroy. It destroys everyone, its upholders as well as its defiers.


Can you not understand that if this trend is not stopped, tomorrow those within the church who are making these laws will decide which books you can and cannot read. And soon they will be banning books and newspapers, and eventually foisting their own religion upon the mind of its followers. If you can do one, you can do the other because fanaticism and ignorance are forever busy and require feeding.


"As for contraception. Forbidding contraception in this day and age is a joke, to say the least. If you took an honest poll from members of the church, you would find the majority of the faithful ignore this rule. The Biblical inferences on this subject, appearing in the books of Genesis and Deuteronomy, are hardly sufficient to warrant the flag-waving campaign against this practice. It is obvious what needs to be done in this instance, so nothing more need be said.


"Now, we are at the threshold of related issues. This is where a woman's right to choose comes into play. Not only the right to choose, but also women's equality in all aspects of the church, especially the right to be elevated to the priesthood. There is no reason for holding women back in their quest to serve God through the church, other than the self-serving ignorance within the Holy See. Women are more sensitive to the needs of their fellow man than are her male counterparts whose fear is the foundation of their repression.


"In the distant past women were confirmed into the priesthood, only to administer in women's prisons. The iron hand of the male-dominated church hierarchy saw to that. And when the need no longer existed, this avenue for women was abolished. This macho attitude toward women is fast becoming the millstone about its neck. And using Holy Scripture as the legality of the church's position in this matter borders on the heretical.


"If nothing is done, and soon, it will assist in dragging the church into the dustbin of history. It is your responsibility to reverse this trend.


“The church has lost sight of its mission to administer to the spiritual needs of its followers. They need to get out of the business of telling people what they can and cannot do in their personal lives and begin again to focus on the spiritual growth of each member of the congregate.


"The Divine impulse, giving men the will to make decisions has been grossly abused. Now is the moment to reverse this trend.


“This concludes my mission. The onus is upon you. I expect you to do your duty immediately and without hesitation.”


A brilliant light filled the chamber and then faded to the total silence among the attendees. An audible clanking sound, signaling the doors to the Chapel were open, sent the Cardinals scurrying to gather their personal items and fleeing to the exit.


Fini


The Silken Noose

Gasping for breath, Cardinal Noah McPherson entered his suite at Casa Santa Marta. Beads of perspiration gathered on his forehead as he leaned against the closed door, his eyes tightly closed in an attempt to calm his rapid breathing. He feared the tightness in his chest was the forerunner of a heart attack which would end his pursuit of the Papal Throne.


Noah had accomplished his goal of having the Pope murdered, which opened the pathway for his ascension to the throne of the Papacy. His popularity among the other Cardinals assured his success in reaching his goal. For years he had endeared himself to the influential within the Holy See, avoiding the failures of others who dared climb the political ladder.


He began his climb the day he entered Saint John’s Seminary in Camarillo, California. It was August of 1961. He vaguely remembered his birthplace on a cattle ranch in Australia’s outback, near Alice Springs. His mother immigrated to the United States before he was of school age after his father had beaten her once too often while in an alcoholic rage. Noah suspected she had stolen money to escape. She changed her name and spoke of her past to no one except Noah.


Survival had been difficult for her in California. Providing the necessities of life for herself and a growing son eventually forced her into prostitution. She died a broken soul during Noah’s senior year in high school. His school grade average was excellent, but with no skills, and the dismal prospect of being on his own, he turned to Father Mueller for help in being accepted into the seminary college.


Noah had succumbed to Father Mueller’s affection for him while serving as his altar boy. He discovered he could manipulate the elderly priest without threatening him.


Once enrolled in the seminary, he discouraged Father Mueller from continuing their relationship. He focused on mastering the education being offered, graduating at the top of his class. With his Master of Divinity Degree secure in his resume, he sought and received an invitation to the coveted Pontifical North American College in Rome, where he flourished in the academic environment. Gaining fluency in the Italian language endeared him to the right people within the Holy See.


Ties with California and his unpleasant past faded as his intelligence, charm, youthful good looks, and cunning, opened opportunities within the Vatican, enabling him to climb the internal power ladder to the success he experienced as Cardinal.


The Papal Throne was within reach. The only obstacle was the current Pope, whose vigor endangered Noah’s goal. Attaining the position of Supreme Pontiff became an obsession. Thoughts of how to attain that power took precedence over everything else.


Until a few hours ago, Noah’s nomination was assured. What no one expected was the appearance of the mysterious priest at the close of the first day of the papacy conclave. When this priest announced the blood of the dead Pope was on the hands of an attendee of the conclave, Noah felt the warm moisture in the palms of his hands. He dared not look for fear someone would notice.


When the priest completed his mission and disappeared in a brilliant light, the doors of the Sistine Chapel opened. Noah left with the other cardinals. To avoid meeting anyone in the elevator, he took the stairway. As he ascended the stairs, he looked at the palms of his hands and began shaking with trepidation at the sight of the red stains. He hid his hands. How could this be? Was he dreaming? Overwhelmed with astonishment, he stumbled and fell on the ascending steps and lay panting for breath. Regaining his composure, he resumed his journey up two more flights of stairs.


He unlocked the door to his suite of rooms with the magnetic key card, using his wrist to push the door handle down so as not to get blood on the handle. He leaned against the closed door, his eyes pinched shut as he attempted to calm himself. He forced himself to focus on a plan to evade detection. He would not allow his plans for the throne to be derailed, no matter who or what got in the way.


As he opened his eyes, he was shocked at what he saw reflected in the hallway mirror. His wide-eyed, slack-jawed expression complimented the hangman’s noose suspended from a ceiling beam in the living room. Noah staggered to the doorway, gazing upon the awful scene. The straight back chair beneath the suspended noose beckoned to him.


He slumped into a nearby chair without taking his gaze from the loathsome vision. Noah’s pulse raced again as he gasped for breath. No one knew except the mysterious priest. How could this be? His two accomplices had been well paid and were long gone.


He was struck with the realization that this was his gallows. There was no escape, nowhere to turn, nowhere to run. Justice for what he had done was upon him. The one thought of grace that passed through his mind – he was alone. He slipped from his chair onto his knees and whispered, “Dear God in heaven, forgive me,” his tears of regret did not wash away the blood from his trembling hands. No answer came from heaven. There was only the unbearable silence cloaking him in his shame as he lay crouched upon the floor.


All was lost except for this final act of contrition. The needlessness of putting it off for one more moment forced Noah to his feet. He paused, looked up at the terrible sight, then stepped onto the seat of the chair. He slipped the silk noose over his head, pulling it snug against his neck. His final thoughts were of the Proverbs parable.


He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind, and the fool shall be…


Noah’s feet slipped from the chair, tipping it backward, forever placing it out of reach. The silk rope tightened, cutting off circulation. He instinctively grabbed at the rope as the horrible pressure built within his cranium. His body writhed violently in a futile attempt to escape, his eyes bulging from their sockets as blood vessels burst in his brain. He saw a brilliant light flash, before unconsciousness, and death rescued him.


Father Svenson, the Cardinal’s assistant, arrived to escort the Cardinal to the dining room for the evening meal. He knocked on the Cardinal’s door. As he waited, he noticed spots on the carpet which appeared to be blood droplets. He used his magnetic key card to unlock the door.


The reflection in the hallway mirror of the Cardinal hanging by his neck was the first thing Father Svenson saw as the door swung opened. He ran to the living room doorway, staggered back at the sight of the cadaveric spasms of the dead Cardinal’s body, then ran from the apartment for help.


News of the Cardinal’s suicide spread like a wildfire in spite of the Holy See’s efforts to conceal it from the public. The blood on his hands confirmed what other cardinal’s had heard from the mysterious priest. The news that Cardinal McPherson was responsible for the death of the Pope shocked the world.


Investigators uncovered the Cardinal’s personal journal. On the last page, they found two names and a telephone number, which they determined was no longer in service.


The two individuals named in the Cardinal’s journal were apprehended and questioned. Sister Mary Francis identified the woman as the one who distracted her from delivering beverages to the Pope and his guest in the Pope’s private garden. Under further interrogation, the woman confessed to the plot and identified the man apprehended with her as the one who deposited the potassium cyanide into the teapot.


Both were arrested and imprisoned. Within hours, they committed suicide by cyanide crystals concealed in a false tooth.


The conclave proceeded the following day, Bishop Marc Carlini’s name was submitted to the conclave and was unanimously elected as the next Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. White smoke ascended the chimney of the Sistine Chapel. The crowd roared with approval as a light rain fell upon Saint Peter’s Square.


Proverbs 11:29 He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; and the fool shall be servant to the wise of heart.


Fini


The Cross

Father Marc Carlini, assistant to Cardinal Karl Petersen, waited patiently in the Cardinal’s apartment for his return from the first day of the conclave to elect the new pope. He had not heard the rumors of the appearance of a mysterious priest at the conclave, who berated everyone in the room.


The door of the Cardinal’s apartment opened. Marc stepped forward, “Good afternoon your Eminence.”


“Good afternoon, Marc,” he placed his briefcase on the desk, then turned; “Do me a favor, Marc. When we are alone, please call me Karl. I weary of the formality in this place.”


“Yes, of course. Karl, it is.” He smiled. “I understand. Any news worth passing on?”


“I’m assuming you haven’t heard?”


“No, I took a long walk into Rome. I only returned minutes before your arrival. What is it, Karl. You look stressed.”


“We were locked in the Sistine Chapel and no one could get the doors open.” The years weighed heavily on Karl as he sat on the bed.


“I knew they were locked as is custom, but nothing unusual was said about it. At least nothing was said to me.”


“I’ll fill you in during dinner.” Karl stood up. “Right now I need your assistance in getting me out of this costume.”


“Yes, of course.”


As Marc helped remove the ceremonial outer clothing, Karl noticed something, “What is it you wear beneath your rabat?” Karl looked quizzically at Marc.


“It’s a gift I received from a priest; it’s quite beautiful. Would you care to see it?”


Karl sat down. “Yes I would if you don’t mind.” His breath caught as he realized what it might be.


“Of course not. I’m proud of this, and keep it close to me.” Marc unbuttoned his vest, removed the cross from under his rabat and handed it to Karl.


“Oh, my God,” Karl looked up into the surprised face of the young priest.


“What is it? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.”


“I have, Marc; I have indeed.” Karl got up, walked to his desk and picked up the telephone. “Cardinal Albertini, please.” He turned and gazed at Marc.


“What is it?” Marc moved forward. Karl put up his hand.


“Is he there? … Find him immediately and have him come to my suite. Tell him I found it. He’ll understand.” He hung up the phone and turned to Marc.


“Found it? The cross? I don’t understand.”


Karl handed the cross back. “I have something to tell you, Marc. You’d better sit down.”


By the time Cardinal Albertini, the Dean of Cardinals, arrived at Karl’s apartment, Marc had been fully informed of what happened in the Sistine Chapel that afternoon.


“Are you certain it was Father Frederick?”


“There is no question about it.”


A single knock came at the door. Cardinal Albertini let himself in, glanced at Marc as he walked to where Karl was sitting and waited.


“Give him the cross, Marc.”


Cardinal Albertini looked intently at Marc, “Father Frederick gave this cross to you?”


“Yes, your eminence. He gave it to me and told me my future would rise upon it.”


Cardinal Albertini turned to Karl, “Have you told him what happened this afternoon?”


“Everything.”


“Father Marc?” Cardinal Albertini’s question was to ascertain if he fully understood.


Marc responded in his usual soft manner, “I don’t know, your, Eminence. This is so sudden. I need to talk with Father Frederick.”


The Cardinal’s stare prompted Marc to add, “Father Frederick said he would return if ever I needed him.”


“We will leave you in his hands for the moment. Please meet with me tomorrow morning to discuss your decision,” Cardinal Albertini returned the cross to Marc and left the apartment.


“Karl, would you excuse me, please?”


“Yes, of course, my boy. Come to me in the morning before we meet with Albertini.”


Marc bowed his head slightly, turned and quickly left the apartment. He went directly to the chapel.


As he entered, he surveyed those seated throughout the sanctuary. He had hoped Freddie would be waiting for him. He sat down near the entrance and tried to quiet his mind. Freddie’s appearance at the conclave, the cross, and the possibility of becoming a Bishop had taken its toll on him. Becoming a bishop was beyond his ambition. Becoming the Bishop of Rome, the Supreme Pontiff, was beyond his comprehension. He bowed and put his face in his hands – Where are you, Freddie?


His thoughts drifted back to Saint Benedict’s where he had found peace and joy in being with his parishioners. His request to have Sister Agnes accompany him on his journey to Rome had been denied. He missed her presence.


He felt a light touch on his shoulder and sat up. “Freddie,” he whispered as he got up.


Freddie gestured for him to follow.


In the hallway, Marc whispered, “Freddie, we need to talk.”


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