So said the novelist W. Someset Maugham (1874-1965). And when it comes to being bitter, it's hard to top left-wing, dissenting, arrogant "Vatican commentators", as evidenced by this piece in The Irish Times:
“JOSEPH RATZINGER should never have become pope. It could not happen. According to the unwritten rules of papal conclaves such a ‘divisive’ figure would never be able to command the two-thirds vote necessary to be elected.”
Those are the opening words of a new book, Ratzinger, A Pontificate In Crisis , by Marco Politi, the veteran Vatican commentator who in an interview as early as November 2004 had indicated the then Cardinal Ratzinger as a “secret candidate” to become the next pope. In his book, (not yet available in English) Politi outlines the background to his interview with Ratzinger.
He points out that he had originally issued a formal request for the interview in 2001. However, it was only in November 2004, at a time when John Paul II’s chronic ill-health was all too obvious, that the then senior Vatican spokesman, Opus Dei member, Joaquín Navarro-Valls confirmed the interview.
Politi suggests that during the summer of 2004, an inner Holy See cabal of ultra-conservative, Hispanic Curia cardinals had decided that “God’s Rottweiller” Ratzinger was the cardinal who could best defend their hardline conservative views. The cardinals in question included the Colombians, Darío Castrillón Hoyos and Alfonso López Trujillo, the Spaniard Julián Herranz and the Chilean Jorge Medina Estévez. The idea of the interview with Politi, then the Vatican correspondent for influential left-wing daily La Repubblica was to “promote” their man.
The rest, of course, is history. The best-laid plans came to fruition with the April 2005 election of Pope Benedict XVI, a Curia figure who for most of the previous 20 years had not even figured on the list of papabili (future popes) drawn up by Vatican commentators.
Failure not only leads to bitterness, but to the sort of gnawing anger that breeds conspiracy theories, victimhood, and bigotry. The failure seen here, however, is not a failure to win power or to leverage for political influence, but the failure to have faith. Show me a Catholic who talks endlessly and obsessively of power struggles, personality clashes, "plans", "programs", and politics, and I'll show you a Catholic who has either lost his faith or is on course to do so. Once your gaze fails to ever look heavenward, you are bound to curse nearly everything on earth, either through impotent words of rage or violent acts of domination. The Epistle to the Hebrews states:
Strive for peace with all men, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God; that no "root of bitterness" spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Heb 12:14-16)
What is that "holiness" but the purity of heart and clarity of vision gifted by grace and grown by faith? Why is being "immoral" linked to being "irreligious"? Because the rejection of Creed (to borrow from Abp. Fulton Sheen) is almost always rooted in a defiant rending of the Commandments. This is not to dismiss such omniscient Vatican commentators as sad sinners unworthy of attention; after all, we are all sad sinners if we are without grace, repentance, and confession. Rather, it is marvel at the arrogance of those who denounce the Pope and his work as devious and "dysfunctional" failures while they lash out in confused frustration over their failure to circumvent the work of the Holy Spirit.
But, again, there's the rub: if you really do believe in the Holy Spirit, the power of Jesus Christ, and the supernatural character of the Church, your criticisms will exhibit far less desperation and a bit more charity. But if the Church is just a matter of politics clothed in bells and smells, then don't waste any time going after that dark and sinister "inner Holy See cabal of ultra-conservative, Hispanic Curia cardinals"! After all, when all else fails—especially faith—bitterness and cruelty are some of the only options left on a desolate table.