The Vatican is stuck in a monarchical past

National Catholic Reporter

by Tom Roberts | Feb. 27, 2013

A coincidental confluence of monarchical events occurred in 2005, during the period between the death of Pope John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI.

In a span of less than three weeks, John Paul died (April 2), Prince Rainier of Monaco died (April 6), Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles were married (April 9) in England, and Benedict was elected pope (April 19).

Through all of it the international media followed the flow of mourners, celebrators and ornately bedecked imitations of bygone eras as they made their way from castles to famous churches and back. It was a manner of reverse time-travel. All of the braided gold rope and draped epaulettes, feathered hats, shiny silver helmets, chests full of medals, gilded coaches, and endless reminders of dead kings and popes was enough to almost convince one that an age of Renaissance princes had somehow been recreated.

But there were differences, quickly apparent, among the pageants. In England and Monaco, amid joy and sorrow, the principals, privileged as they might be, walked as 21st-century intruders upon ancient ceremonials. They bore contemporary, real-life scars of tragic deaths and love gone sour. There was no retreat into some insular spirituality, no hiding away in a religious culture, though religion brought the most profound meaning to the events. The talk in these settings was not about some metaphysically infused heroic suffering. It was just suffering of the human sort, which is holy enough, the kind most of us bear no matter how elite, the kind where relationships need tending and there are children and others to worry about. In London and Monaco, the artifacts of royalty were symbols in service to a faded reality.

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