Because of his penchant for phoning total strangers out of the blue, Pope Francis has earned the nickname “The Cold Call Pope.”
National Catholic Reporter
So I’m just about to lie down on the couch for a nap when the phone rings. I’m tempted to ignore it, but you never know, it could be family. “Hello,” I say, and not too enthusiastically, I might add.
“You think because I’m a nice guy I’m gonna let you slide, huh?”
“Allo–thees ees Pope Francis,” the voice on the other end of the line says in the bogus Italian accent that all Vicars of Christ on Earth must use when calling on official business, even when they’re from Argentina. “Have I reached the lapsed Catholic of the house?”
Dammit–why couldn’t it have been a telemarketer, or a political robocall? “That would be me,” I say.
“How are things in Boston?” the pontiff–who’s come to be known as “The Cold Call Pope”–asks cheerfully. Classic high-pressure sales tactic; get the sucker on your side with some friendly chit-chat to make him think you give a shit about him. Like they say, sincerity’s key–if you can fake that you’ve got it made.
“Pretty good. Celtics are in the Eastern Conference finals of a plague-shortened NBA finals. How are things in the Eternal City?”
“Eternal as ever. Long lines at every restaurant, I usually order in.”
“Can you get good Italian food there?”
“Sure, but it’s not like in the states with Olive Garden.”
“I know–when you’re there, you’re family. Everyplace else you’re stuck with the family God gave you.”
“Ain’t that the truth. Say listen, I wanted to talk to you about your record of giving.”
He means my record of not-giving–it’s been half a century since I turned in my last mite box in 7th grade.
“Yeah, I know. So many other good causes out there; earthquakes, tornadoes, tidal waves. Tell the big guy upstairs to take a year off from natural disasters and maybe I’ll catch up.”
“It would take you more lifetimes than you have on earth, my former altar boy friend. Don’t you want to go to heaven?”
“You know–it sounds nice and all that, but it would be like an uncomfortable cocktail party.”
“I wouldn’t know anybody there.”
“Hmm–that might be a problem since you,” he pauses a moment to check my file–“doesn’t make friends easily.”
“What can I say–I’m not a ‘people’ person.”
Pope Hadrian III: You can’t fake his kind of crazy.
“And yet–you have no problem speaking in the voice of other people.”
I’m not sure where he’s going with this, so I hem and haw a bit.
“Hem . . . haw.”
“You seem to be at a loss for words,” the Pope says with a touch of menace–and a just a hint of saffron–in his voice. “This was not so back when you were blogging as the Pope!”
Ulp. He’s got me there; for a brief and shining time I held myself out to the blogosphere as Pope Benedict XVI–a/k/a “God’s Rotweiler”–at the late, lamented ezine “News Groper.” I wrote on papal fashions, papal tweeting (“U R so going to hell”), FAQs about being pope–I ran the gamut.
“But I was a defender of the faith,” I say in my defense. “When knucklehead Hollywood types like Bill Maher and Tom Hanks would say mean things about the Pope–I took ’em on.”
“Um.” It’s his turn to make semi-meaningful, non-verbal vocalizations into his receiver.
“And I propagated the faith,” I continue. “I had a feature–‘Popes on Parade’–to bring lesser-known Vatican-dwellers to the public’s attention.”
“Yes,” he says drily. “I have stumbled upon one particularly choice ‘post’ on Hadrian III.”
Oops. He’s apparently on to me. “You know, the Oxford Dictionary of Popes says ‘Almost nothing is known of his short reign.’” Maybe I can throw him off the scent with that sort of bland academic disclaimer. “We know that Emperor Charles the Fat summoned him to the imperial Diet at Worms . . .”
“You’re grossing me out!”
“. . . to secure the succession for his bastard son Bernard, but that’s about it.”
“You seem to have forgotten one of the more interesting incidents of Hadrian’s reign, of which you wrote so colorfully for this ‘News Groper.’”
“I don’t know what you mean.”
“You don’t recall writing about him blinding George of the Aventine?”
“Can’t say that I do.”
“The internet . . . she never forgets, my friend.”
“Okay, I’m busted,” I say, hoping to get off easy. “Gimme my usual penance, 5 Our Fathers, 10 Hail Marys and an Act of Contrition.”
“Not so fast, smart-boy. You seem to have forgotten another episode that you dredged up, one which reflects poorly on the Mother Church.”
“What? What did I say–write, whatever?”
“That Hadrian had a certain noblewoman punished in a very public way?”
“Oh, THAT. Hey–everybody’s entitled to . . .”
“Be careful what you say, my son.”
“. . . whip one naked woman through the streets. It’s . . . like a mulligan.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”