The cardinals have elected Pius XIII because they could not reach a compromise between their conservative and liberal factions. They consider him a naïve, inexperienced manipulable American. They are disappointed when they end up getting Caligula who sets out to turn the table around and dominate and manipulate them.
A power struggle ensues but the Pope has all the cards in his hands, i.e., the power with which to trump his enemies. He gets that power by acquiring knowledge about his enemies in a surreptitious mode, via the Vatican’s father confessor who shares with the Pope the secrets of his penitents.
It’s all redolent of Machiavellian political philosophy: the end justifies the means, and knowledge is power.
Of course all that is pure fiction. But then there is the real world where surreal conspiracy theories abound, which doesn’t mean they don’t exist. We are referring to the populist world of Donald Trump and Stephen Bannon with which the movie has uncanny affinities. We have already examined their special relationship in the first part of this piece.
One of those above mentioned trumping cards in the real world of Trump is in fact his aide Stephen Bannon, an archconservative Catholic who has a kindred spirit in the Vatican, the American cardinal Raymond Burke. They see the populist political struggles going on as a clash of civilization which will soon come to an apocalyptic climax of Muslims against Christians (remember the Crusades?) and eventually East against West; China against the US (remember Alexander the Great and the Persians?).
In the fictional world of Pius XIII cardinals who conspire against the Pope are sent to a remote part of the US, in frigid Alaska. In the real world of the present Vatican, those who secretly slap up anti-Pope posters and attempt to stir up a schism among conservatives, are sent to a remote corner of the US in the Pacific sea called the island of Guam, an American outpost of 162,000 people.
His arrival there was only announced when he landed on the 15th of February, ostensibly on a mission ordered by the Pope. This is the same pattern we notice in the movie “The Young Pope.” Cardinals who create nuisances are sent away.
What is the Vatican press explanation? Simple: Burke has been named by the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith as presiding judge against Guam Archbishop Anthony Apuron who refuses to resign despite allegations of sexual misconduct from altar boys who served him in the 70s.
Intriguing that this is the first time that Burke was sent abroad from the Vatican. Till 2014 he was the head of the Vatican’s tribunal but has since been demoted. The question arises: why? Well, for one thing, he and three other cardinals have signaled doubts about the Pope’s teaching on love and the family. In another public rift the Pope had to intervene in the inner governance of the sovereign Knights of Malta Catholic order for which Burke is advisor.
What has surfaced since the 15th of February is that it wasn’t the order’s Grand Master Fra’ Matthew Festing who forced the resignation of its Grand Chacellor Albrecht Von Boeselager, for allegedly approving the distribution of condoms to sex slave in Myanmar, but it was Cardinal Burke, who thus violated the Knights’ sovereignty. A decision to fire a member of the Sovereign Council can only be carried out by the order’s General Chapter, not by the pope’s chaplain as representative of the Holy See. So the Pope was forced to intervene and rectify the situation by requiring Festing’s resignation and the reinstatement of Von Boeselager.
So, as in the movie, to Guam you go, Cardinal Burke, but of course it is not a punishment just a sacrifice in the form of service to Mother Church.
Now the Knights of Malta can put their own house in order. What remains to be determined is whether or not Cardinal Burke, even among the luxuriant palms of tropical Guam, will continue the anti-pope campaign with Stephen Bannon and his likes. That will determine if indeed he was its mastermind. The plot thickens, it’s beginning to look even more intriguing than the one in the movie.