Pope Francis ordered officials to get the Holy See’s budget under control after a doubling of the deficit.
The Wall Street Journal
It’s Friday, and I’m not the only person in the Papal Finance Department with his eye on the exit, but nobody’s going to take a chance on leaving early ever since Pope Francis went on the budget warpath. What’s the big deal about doubling a deficit? According to my eighth grade modern math textbook, when you multiply two negative numbers you get a positive one, so that’s a good thing, right?
Anyway, until the storm blows over and we right the ship, we either have to increase top line revenue or decrease expenses. My suggestion–since we keep paying out millions in altar boy settlements–is focus on new revenue sources.
I was just about to finish my thought in the team meeting when who should shoot his hand up like a jack-in-the-box but Brother Aloysius, the smarmy little apple-polisher. “How about instead of new revenue sources we go back to a good old revenue source . . . and start selling indulgences again?”
I tried to take back the wheel of the bus from the brown-nosing hijacker, but he was off to the races. “If I can finish,” I started, but his whiny nasal voice drowned me out, the way an air raid siren overpowers a car horn.
“We could charge, like $10,000 for a year off your time in Purgatory,” he said, barely able to keep his butt in his seat with his enthusiasm for his own precious ideas. “Maybe–I don’t know–a million to wipe the slate clean and go straight to the Pearly Gates.”
At this point the sound of someone clearing his throat like the Moodus Noises in Connecticut was heard from the other side of the room; it was, I knew, Brother Bernard about to drop some quaint and curious lore of the One True Church upon us. Normally, I would have groaned and rolled my eyes at the pedantic putz, to mix my Abrahamic religions, but I welcomed Bernie’s downpour of torrential scholarship to douse the flames of Aloysius’s ardor.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Benny said drily.
“What?” Aloysius asked.
“Oh, nothing much. Just a little thing called–the Protestant Reformation!”
The sound that issued from Aloysius’s throat as he gulped down his gorge was audible across the conference room. “I . . . uh . . . ”
“Martin Luther? 95 Theses?”
“Well, sure, but . . .”
“The Disputation on the Power of Indulgences?”
“He’s got you there, beadle-boy,” I said as I allowed a thin wisp of a smile to curl across my lips, like a lingering puff of smoke from a mouth of a moll in a dive bar.
“Who’s disputing what?” Francis said as he bustled into the conference room, late as always. Probably giving an interview to L’Osservatoro Romano, the official newspaper of the Vatican, or maybe Papal Beat, a fanzine for budding Saint Maria Theresa Gorettis, eleven-year-old girl saint.
“This marketing whiz wants to produce another world-historical schism,” Brother Bernie said, shaking his head.
“Let’s hear him out,” Francis said, grabbing a cheese Danish from the tray of pastries that Vatican housekeeping had set us up with, along with bad coffee and hipster juice bottles with wry little aphorisms on the inside of the lids.
Aloysius gave Bernard and me a cat-eating-the-canary look and proceeded.
“We need to optimize revenues in a highly-competitive tithing market,” A-Loy said, completely unabashed. I wanted to bash him, but there’s something about that in the Ten Commandments. “You’ve got crazy cults fleecing heiresses of their legacies, Southern Baptists giving like crazy to televangelists–the only competitor in the religious space we’re beating is mainline Protestants. Why shouldn’t we give people a little heaven on earth in exchange for some filthy lucre?”
“Thoughts, gentlemen?” the Pope said as he bit off a bite.
“He’s wrong on the facts, wrong on the concept, and wrong in the hearts of parishioners,” Bernard said.
“I like the way you rolled that out,” I said. “Sort of like they used to say that St. Louis was first in booze, first in shoes, and last in the American League. A great rhetorical device.”
“If we could get back to my proposal,” Aloysius said, obviously annoyed.
“It seems to me,” Francis said, reaching for a cinnamon-raisin bagel, “that times have changed, and we have to change with them.”
Bernard’s jaw didn’t hit the ground, but that was only because there was a table in the way. “But . . .” he sputtered, but the Pope was on a roll, and it wasn’t a buttered one.
“Maybe we’d start small,” the Pope said, making one of those little church-and-steeples with his fingers. “Not an actual indulgence indulgence, just a promotional code or a mail-in rebate.”
“Great idea!” Aloysius said, smooching the Papal butt with all his might. “Or a half-off the lower-priced sin coupon!”
I watched as Bernard’s face began to turn from its normal pinkish-brown tint to something resembling the mood ring on the finger of a depressed 70’s Joni Mitchell fan. I figured I had to do something before he went to his heavenly reward right there in front of us.
“Hold it just a minute,” I said in a voice intentionally devoid of charm.
“Great, just great,” Aloysius said. “Mr. Spoilsport is going to crush the hopes of millions of potential indulgence customers around the world.”
“You know,” I said, giving him my best steely glare, with a side-glance at the Pope to see how he was reacting, “it is only through loving kindness and faithfulness–not payments by cash or major credit cards-that iniquity is atoned for.”
Aloysius started to rebut me, but the Pope, as they say, interceded.
“That was . . . beautiful,” he said, and I thought I detected the glistening of a tear in the corner of his eye. “Where did you get that? Old Testament? New Testament?”
“You made it up yourself?”
“Nope. It’s on the inside of this bottle cap.”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Here’s to His Holiness: Fake Stories About Real Popes.”