Pope Tommy

Pope Benedict surprised the world today with the news that he would step down. It was only 8 years ago that he was elected pope, and back then I weighed in with my thoughts on the matter: mainly, the Cardinals should have chosen me! So to remind them of their missed opportunity and give them a chance to get it right this time, here’s a rerun of that column. (References upon request.)

May 2005 

I was really disappointed when I heard Cardinal Ratzinger was elected pope. Nothing against him, mind you, but I was really hoping they would elect me.

I knew I was a long shot, but it wasn’t impossible. Technically, any Catholic male in good standing with the church can be elected pope, and I’m Catholic, and male, and as far as my standing, well, truth is I’m really more of a lapsed Catholic. But the way I look at it, that could have worked in my favor. Let’s face it; there are lots of us. What better way to reach out to lapsed Catholics than electing one of them pope?

I figured I had other things going for me too. Like my last name. Say it slowly, and linger over every vowel. Paay ohhh laawwn  jelleeeee. Very Italian name, which would make the Italians happy. And I’m half Irish, so that would make the Irish happy. And of course I’m an American, so that would make Americans happy.

I’d want to be seen as an accessible, down-to-earth, regular-guy type pope, so I’d tell everyone to call me Pope Tommy. If you insist on something more formal, then Tommy the First.

I could so easily look the part. Heck, I even have a good start on a tonsure, the shaved top of the head look favored by medieval monks. Mine is naturally occurring – surely a divine sign?

I know most popes were priests, and I’m not, but I was an altar boy. I’ve been backstage, so to speak. I still know the difference between a cassock and a surplice. And I look good in black.

I’d bring other unique assets to my popehood. Some people feel priests are out of touch with the rest of the human race because of that celibacy thing. Well, believe it or not, I’ve had sex. I’ve even been married, too. Twice, actually. (2013 update: make it three times, and yes, the world is ready for a married pope!)

But if it really matters to the Cardinals, I also know what it’s like to be celibate for months at a time, too. (Not that it was really my choice…)

I think the Mass needs some sprucing up. First, I’d invite members of black Baptist churches to come over and teach us Catholics how to really sing and raise a joyful noise to the Lord. No more mumbling through hymns. And I’d ban folk music Masses. The church has a rich tradition of liturgical music composed by giant talents like Bach that has stood the test of time. Bland, recycled second-rate modern melodies would have no place in my church. And hello, Gregorian chant albums have sold millions of copies, so how about more of that?

I’d have special “Aerobics Masses,” where we’d triple the number of times people stand, sit and kneel. Well, maybe only double would be sufficient for a good workout.

Now I wouldn’t go overboard with the changes. Though I would suggest a better vintage communion wine, (something a bit drier, a nice Merlot perhaps?), it’s not like I’d replace the communion bread and wine with lattes and bagels. (Though maybe that would boost attendance at early morning Masses… hmmm, let me get back to you on that one.)

Mainly I’d want to really modernize the church, bring it into the 21st century. All priests would be issued cell phones. That way the wayward could call in sins as they occur, and receive instant absolution and penance. Or better yet, call in as temptation strikes, so that the priest can help them resist. The best way to deal with sins is to stop them before they happen.

I’d also encourage priests to hear confessions via internet instant messaging. I’d allow acronyms and shorthand, like BMFFIHS for “bless me father for I have sinned” but no smiley or frowny faces. Have to preserve a certain decorum.

Finally, the popemobile would have to go. It’s a very uncool set of wheels. I’m thinking when my Cardinal crew and I blow into town, we’d all ride Harleys. And I’d double dare any Hell’s Angels to get in our way.

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