Papal Bull


If the world's recovering

Catholics—a category that

technically includes all

Protestants, the descendants of

Jews forced to convert upon pain

of execution during the Spanish

Inquisition, approximately 90

percent of parochial school

graduates, and anyone who can

remember Cheech & Chong's Sister

Mary Elephant bit—were

starting to have second thoughts

about their contempt for an

institution identified by Sir

Isaac Newton and Jack T. Chick

alike as the whore in the Book

of Revelation's must-read

Chapter 17, then Pope John Paul

II's recent swing through Mexico

and St. Louis should douse any

and all ecumenical second

thoughts with a nice splash of

ice-cold, holier-than-thou


The Cincinnati Enquirer—the

new paper of record at least for

Pete Rose fans, as evidenced by

a recent letter to the editor

that persuasively argues thusly

on behalf of Charlie Hustle: "If

President Clinton gets hailed

for telling a lie and remains

president, then why should Pete

Rose be kept out of the Hall of

Fame for doing the same thing?"

– got it more right than it

could ever know by headlining a

story about the pontiff's

36-hour gig in St. Louis, "Pope

gets rock-star greeting in US."

Indeed, the Vicar of Christ on

Earth formerly known as Karol

Wojtyla is acting like a

self-indulgent rocker, and not

simply because the perennially

near-death cleric has gone on

more final-farewell, that's-it

tours than the Ramones and the

Who combined. And not simply

because he's really only hitting

the road to drum up interest in

his new rap CD Abba Pater, set

for release from Sony Classical

on 23 March. (Word up: Tracks

include "prayers, homilies, and

chants" set to Vatican-approved

music; the disc's first single,

"Pater Noster" [Our Father],

will also be a video.) And not

simply because he insisted on

having all the green M&M's

removed from his dressing room.

This time around, JP2 managed to

blend perfectly sanctimonious

social messaging with rank

hypocrisy on a level that hasn't

been seen since heavier-than-air

country-boy John Denver mouthed

environmentalist slogans while

stockpiling petroleum products

at his Rocky Mountain retreat in

between drunken drives on Pikes


But let's give the religious

road warrior this much: He knows

how to work a crowd and keep

those offertory envelopes thick

with cash; he doesn't grouse

about doing his old hits; and he

remembers to write down what

town he's playing. "I am told

that there was much excitement

in St. Louis during the recent

baseball season when two great

baseball players were competing

to break the home-run record,"

he told a crowd of 20,000

"shrieking teenagers." And he

came loaded with the theological

equivalent of "Are you ready to

rock?" exhorting his fans to

resist the "culture of death."

Cue more shrieking.

In a move that recalls Pete

Townsend beating Abbie Hoffman

on the stage at Woodstock, the

Holy Father laid into the

abortion issue even as he shared

a platform with Bill Clinton,

whose primary presidential

legacy (apart from suggesting a

use for Phillies Blunts beyond

simply packing them with weed)

may well end up being his veto

of a bill that would have banned

partial-birth abortions. After

comparing abortion to the Dred

Scott decision, the pope

continued, "Today the conflict

is between a culture that

affirms, cherishes, and

celebrates the gift of life, and

a culture that seeks to declare

entire groups of human beings –

the unborn, the terminally ill,

the handicapped, and others

considered 'unuseful'—to be

outside the boundaries of legal


Such in-your-face moral

integrity is always inspiring,

even, or perhaps especially,

when it comes from a guy who

fronts a cult that once

christened the Pep Boys of

fascism—Hitler, Mussolini, and

Franco—as righteous "defenders

of the faith." To be sure, there

is a strong element of weary

ritual to such a predictable

declamation, a sense, say, of

Gene Simmons breathing fire for

the 500th time, of Mick Jagger

riding one more inflatable

penis, or of Marilyn Manson

simulating fellatio onstage yet

again. And certainly one can

only be disappointed that the

septuagenarian successor to St.

Peter didn't at least try to

kick the president in the nuts

after Clinton lauded him in

terms reminiscent of Bono's Emmy

Awards tribute to Frank Sinatra.

"For 20 years, you have

challenged us to think of life

not in terms of what we acquire

for ourselves but what we give

of ourselves," said the prez,

perhaps momentarily mistaking

John Paul II for an intern. "We

honor you for standing for human

dignity and human rights," said

Clinton, brushing aside the

"culture of death" shtick with a

hug and a smile.

While such antics are mildly

nauseating in the manner of

hearing a maxi-length sermon on

an empty stomach with a

hangover, they are not

particularly hypocritical. Like

so many other tourists, John

Paul saved that particular moral

lapse for his

south-of-the-border vacation

(reports have it that he also

stocked up on fireworks and

cheap tequila). In Mexico, the

pope lip-synched his

decades-old, anti-materialism,

anti-capitalism medley even as

his trip was underwritten by

corporate sponsors, including

Frito-Lay, Mercedes-Benz,

Sheraton Hotels, and the Mexican

bread company Bimbo. Among the

sanctified tie-ins: stamplike

pictures of the pope and

Mexico's patron saint, the

Virgin of Guadalupe, stuffed

into bags of Ruffles potato

chips (collect all 10 poses!)

and billboards proclaiming Pepsi

an "Official Sponsor of the

Fourth Visit of his Holiness

John Paul II to Mexico." At

least when the Sex Pistols went

on their Filthy Lucre tour a few

years back—an event that

produced its own form of

adolescent shrieking—they

didn't lecture about the evils

of worldly goods in a country

where economic growth is largely

limited to odd-job

contract-killing for the brother

of a former president and where

no more than three Zapatista

rebels can appear in public at

any one time due to a chronic

shortage of ski masks.

Though the Vatican could have

easily set up an eBay account

and auctioned off a few holy

relics—a purported foreskin of

Christ (near-mint condition, no

reserve); eyes of St. Lucy (in

original packaging); slivers

from original cross (Dutch

auction)—to cover the

estimated US$2 million the trip

cost, it instead decided to

shake down, in the words of The

Washington Post, "An all-star

roster of corporate sponsors …

that would do Michael Jordan

proud." (Perhaps the only

question remaining is how the

United States Postal Service

missed out on being a sponsor.)

Simultaneously showing the

steely determination that

allowed the Church to go

centuries before officially

pardoning Galileo for the crime

of being right about the sun and

displaying the get-along

sensibility that made it so easy

to cuddle with Mussolini,

official papal spokesmen seem

unlikely to respond with

contrition anytime soon.

According to Mexican press

reports, "We live in an age of

advertising," one of the papal

spokesmen said. "We are men of

that age." Such a shockingly

passive, faddish sentiment might

have seemed right coming from,

say, Rod Stewart's manager. But

it seems very, very wrong when

it comes from a flack for a man

who, unlike Stewart, really

could be mistaken for a rock

star. Indeed, that particular PR

encyclical only leaves us

saddened that John Paul II, who

ascended to his current position

in 1978, didn't take office

early enough in the Me Decade to

go through full-blown glam,

disco, and punk phases.

Nick Gillespie is editor-in-chief of reason. This story originally appeared in Suck, and can be viewed in that format here.