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Does the Pope Wear Prada?: On power, accessories, shoes of the Fisherman
Open To Thinking, a recurring column
by Nick Patricca
2013-04-03

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Wikipedia, the Vatican, and GQ inform me that Benedict 16's Moroccan Red Leather Shoes were not made by Prada, as many have mistakenly claimed, but hand-made by a Peruvian artisan in Rome. (However, my niece did espy Benedict coming out of Prada on Madison Avenue in NYC as she was stuck in traffic because of his security entourage.) Now that Benedict 16 is emeritus, he has to give up his red shoes for burgundy loafers made for him by a Mexican artisan from Leon. This fact inspires me to suggest to Benedict that he should auction off his papal red shoes on Ebay and donate the proceeds to the many dedicated people, who in the spirit of Jesus, serve the poor and the sick and homeless throughout the world without power, PR, money or accessories.

Peter did not wear shoes; he walked and worked in bare feet as did Jesus. He probably had one pair of inexpensive sandals for special occasions. But, I don't really care whether Benedict has expensive shoes. Good shoes are important for healthy feet and for getting your work done. But that is the question: Are the popes properly doing their job?

Of the many titles that burden the brow of popes, the most important one is: 'Servant of the Servants.' Now would be a good time for Benedict to set the right example for his successor and make that neglected title a living, effective action in the world.

Benedict's failure to govern his own house, to clean out the corrupt elements in the Vatican bureaucracy, evil cabals who used their sacred trusts to indulge their lusts for power, control, money, gourmet dinners, sex (from men, women, or boys or girls), and fashion accessories is his greatest failure as pope. While acknowledging the special merit of Benedict's writings on social justice and on faith and reason, I believe that history will judge his most important contribution to the modern papacy to be his decision to resign.

Benedict, who controlled the Roman Inquisition (now called the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith) for more than 20 years, certainly knew who the guilty were. He knew of the sexual abuse; he knew of the cover-ups; he knew those who cynically remained priests and cardinals for their own comfort and glory even though they had abandoned their faith. Yet, he failed to clean house.

It takes courage to do what is necessary. Paul 6 feared for his life because of what he knew about the financial mismanagement and heinous deals of the Vatican bank and because of what he wanted to do about re-thinking the foundations of Catholic sexual ethics, especially the positions on birth control. I am told by one of his friends that after general meetings at the Vatican he would run out a side door for fear of having to walk the gauntlet of rows and rows of corrupt cardinals and bureaucrats.

John Paul 2, who displayed such courage confronting totalitarian states and governments that suppressed human rights, was either unwilling or unable to rein in the excesses of the Vatican bureaucracy. In point of fact, mistaking piety and orthodoxy for Christian virtue, he made things much worse by surrounding himself with such corrupt clergy as Marcial Maciel Degollado the founder of the powerful Legionaries of Christ. Until the public disclosure of his history of sexual abuse of men and women and children forced him from office, Marcial was an intimate confidant of John Paul 2. (Benedict 16 removed Marcial from active priestly ministry in 2006.)

The power of the Catholic faith to inspire and to transform, to serve human persons wherever they are, whatever their needs, regardless of class, caste, color, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, religion or politics does not spring from the imperial trappings of the Vatican but from the Spirit of Jesus the Christ.

The new pope (Argentina's Jorge Mario Bergoglio) has taken the name of Francis I in order to identify himself with the poor. He has chosen not to wear red shoes (Prada or not), to renounce the princely and regal church, and to walk in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi who identified with the poor, who sought the ways of peace, and who understood nature as his friend and not something to be mastered or subdued. Let us hope that he really does live up to his words, by cleaning out the corruption, by serving the servants, and by trusting the promise Jesus made to Peter: 'the gates of hell shall not prevail (Matthew 16:18).'


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