Thursday, October 16


Good Pope John

"...Indeed, from some points of view, he was a kind of Renaissance prince. In contrast with his predecessor, he did not pretend to ignore the two greatest events of the Venice season, the Film Festival and the Biennial Art Show. [...] In the Patriarch's palace, there was a continuous coming and going of people. Roncalli received everyone; it seemed as if he was never in a hurry, yet at the same time he managed to get through an enormous amount of work. [...]

"When Cardinal Wyszynski, the Primate of Poland, was released from jail by Gomulka and allowed to pay a visit to Rome, he was met at the Mestre [mainland Venice] railway station by Roncalli. As the train was scheduled to stop for three-quarters of an hour, Roncali suggested to his Polish colleague a short sightseeing tour of Venice by motorboat. The Primate of Poland was so enraptured by the beauty of the Grand Canal, he did not notice that time was flying. Suddenly, he looked at his watch and exclaimed in anguish, 'Good heavens! my train has left.' Roncalli smiled and reassured him. 'Don't worry. You see that gentleman sitting at the back of our motorboat? Well, he's the Mestre station master and I kidnapped him. While he is with us the train cannot leave.'

"But if in his relations with the world he showed himself extremely tolerant and fond of social life, he never compromised where the protection of morality or the behavior of his parishioners was concerned. [...] In December of the same year [1957] he condemns the purchase of television sets by priests and set forth the following reasons:

"'(a) a television set is a luxury object that conflicts with the povery and want of many of the faithful; (b) it represents a true attack on the priest by worldly things and by all their seductions; (c) it brings with it a great danger of a waste of time, of dissipation, and of spiritual decadence; (d) it lowes the prestige of the priest in the eyes of the faithful, who can be disturbed by the mere thought that their priest, who celebrates the Holy Mysteries has, without any sound reason connected with his pastoral duties, has been watching television programs.'"

--Corrado Pallenberg, Inside the Vatican, 1960

Two points:

1) As a confirmed (albeit low-grade) television addict myself, I'm not sure I could make the same demand of my clergy with a straight face, but, on the other hand, he does make some good points about the vast televisual wasteland and why we still even bother. On the other, other hand (if you are the Three-Handed Madonna of St. John Damascene), this was the Pope who didn't like priests driving or owning their own cars, so perhaps not all of the then-Patriarch Roncalli's pastoral advice is transferrable to the present. Presumably an indult can be got for EWTN and all those guys at the North American College who watch Father Ted.

2) Good Pope John's mix of old-fashioned liberality and old-fashioned tradition only seems contradictory until one remembers the same combination is so characteristic of our current pontiff.

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