Sunday, 14 March 2010
Satan in the Vatican
Last year I read Satan: a Biography by P. G. Maxwell-Stuart, a nice little trot through the old devil’s life and times. In a subsequent review I concluded as follows;
By the nineteenth century the great division had set in between ‘reason’ and ‘superstition’, casting Satan into the uncertain realms between disbelief and sensationalism. But Satan is always with us, a personification not of the beastly but the all too human; a personification of the darker side of humanity. If the eighteenth century was the age of reason then the twentieth century surely became the age of Satan. Is he a symbol or is he a living presence? Well, I leave you to make up your own mind.
Well, now the Vatican has; not only is he a living presence but he’s living in the Vatican! At least he is according to Father Gabriele Amorth, who is Rome's chief exorcist.
Now there is another surprise; I did not know that Rome had a chief exorcist, or any exorcist, for that matter. The surprises just keep coming: apparently the Church obliges every diocese across the world to keep an official exorcist, a practice established in the Middle Ages, though some of them are remarkably coy about the office, even denying it exists, according to a report I read in the Daily Telegraph recently. Considering the number of diocese involved there must be an awful lot of priests doing little other than staring into vacant devilish space, but of course I'm not allowing for the possibility that some figure in holy orders has this function tucked away among his general remit, and has either forgotten about or is too embarrassed to admit that he carries responsibility for this rather discredited ministry.
Not so Father Gabriele, who, cobwebs dusted off, has emerged into the light from some dusty recess in the Vatican to promote his book, one with the rather upbeat and distinctly modern title of Memoirs of an Exorcist. I rather get the impression that the good priest has his eye on the main chance, hoping to stimulate sales still further by telling La Republica that the Devil is lodging in the Vatican. He clearly does not mean that the evil one lives in the Vatican alone; for he goes on to demonstrate his presence in the actions of paedophile priests, amongst other things, and as we know from America, from Italy, from Ireland, from the Netherlands and now from Pope's own German homeland, these people are everywhere. It is this particular scandal, I think, that takes us right to the heart of the matter. For, you see, this evil, the evil over which the Church remained silent for so long, the evil it never exorcised, is not its fault, not the fault of over-sexed, depraved and celibate priests; no, it's all down to Old Nick.
Nick was everywhere in the Middle Ages; one simply could not get away from him; in mystery plays, in paintings, in mass possessions, in witch trails, in the hysterical heresy hunts of the Inquisition. He was most often to be found in times of crisis, in times of uncertainty over the status of the faith. But then came the Age of Reason and the Devil started to become a bit of a joke. No longer. He's back; he's back in the depraved vestments of paedophile and sadistic priests, friars, bishops and nuns; he's back in a new time of crisis. I suspect if the old fashionable silence had been maintained over sexual abuse we would never have heard of Father Gabriele and his sensationalist book.
The Devil is such a convenient scapegoat, is he not, absolving individuals and institutions from responsibility and moral culpability. It wasn't me, the cry goes up, it was the Devil; he told me to do it, he told us to keep silent about those who were doing it. Paedophile priests are not a sign of moral decay in the Church; no; they are a sign of the Devil's work. The problem has been objectified and externalised; the goat banished into the wilderness; a wrong sublimated under Medieval obfuscation. Still, I think it only right that Nick is entitled to a share of Father Exorcist's no doubt lucrative royalties.