Third Vatican Council: Satire to hoax
GEORGE Orwell is a neo-classical writer famed for satires, and legendary among these works are Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. In my secondary school days, my Literature teacher used them as a template to expose the features of a satirical literature. I learnt that a satire is sardonic in character. It has a strong vein of sarcasm and frequently used are parody, burlesque, exaggeration, juxtaposition, comparison, analogy and double entendre. As a weapon, it has a 'militant irony'. Satires take a grain of truth, and do something to perverse or confuse it, by making it more black-and-white or greyer. This is the case with the Third Vatican Council that has hit the rounds in the last one month.
The fake story circulating, hits at Pope Francis on Social media and the Internet and there have been over 10,000 shares on Facebook and counting. The fake story is traceable to the blog 'Diversity Chronicle' which posted the charade on the Catholic Church and Pope Francis on December 5, 2013, with the title: 'Pope Francis Condemns Racism and Declares that All Religions are true at Historic Third Vatican Council'. When this post first hit the social media, it went agog with the Pope being calumniated as an Anti-Christ amongst others. This did not give me a serious nudge as the Catholic Church down memory lane has past more fierce ages of rocks, but, She, being the 'Rock of Ages', has never been overcome. I do not see the Catholic Church quivering at unfounded, unintelligent and frivolous claims which are aimed at travesty and tawdry popularity. Just about every Pope has been given the tag, Anti-Christ, the recent past being Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI. Protestants from Oliver Cromwell to Ian Paisley have consistently asserted that the Bishop of Rome was an Anti-Christ. All these are strings of the gates of the underworld, even when they come with the convoluted interpretation of Scriptures as their support, certainly, the gates of the underworld have not and cannot prevail against the Church as promised by Christ to Peter and invariably his successors (cf.Matt.16:18).
Nonetheless, I started taking the issue very serious, when it was being heavily feasted on by many unscrupulous minds, and even attempting to make facts out of the fiction - a case of irreconcilable epistemology. It became more bemusing for me, when Pastor Chris Okotie hooted most of his self-styled judgment on this that 'Catholics would go to hell and the Pope is an anti-Christ'. In the first instance, playing God is an effective testimony of a laughable falsehood and an aggressive inauthenticity; a self-web Pastor Okotie was caught. Notwithstanding, Justus Nwakanma tried umpiring this polemic in a piece in The Guardian of January 12, 2014 with the title: 'Between Okotie and Pope Francis'. He tried to surmise reasons for Pastor Okotie misjudgement, yet, he, too like many others are under the gullibility of the claims in point. The misgivings are in the following range: that there is a third Vatican Council which was ended on December 5, 2013, that Pope Francis at that Council made some claims especially about no longer believing in a Literal Hell, that an atheist himself could make heaven, hell being a literary device, and a lot more libel. All these and the purported words of Pope Francis are the satirical excerpts from the 'Diversity Chronicle' blog. Sadly, Justus Nwakanma who began like an unbiased umpire, ended up contracting the disease, he himself was about to cure, by falling prey to the amusement of the same pun-players. He seemingly concedes by saying: 'Concerns have been raised as to whether this raft of revolutionary irrationalism coming from the Pope is real or fake. But since there has been no official denial (to the writer's knowledge) from the Vatican, it is reasonable to conclude that whether he is speaking ex cathedra, or not, Christendom should not at all be silent or relapse in muted applause of a seeming infraction of its principles and teachings.'
'Diversity Chronicle' is a satirical blog created by Erik Thorson and according to him, it is for personal amusement. On the disclaimer page, Erik Thorson noted emphatically, that the content on his blog is 'largely satirical'. The author of the blog based his writings on the quote of Georg Christopher Lichtenberg: 'I ceased in the year 1764 to believe that one can convince one's opponents with arguments printed in books. It is not to do that, therefore, that I have taken up my pen, but merely so as to annoy them, and to bestow strength and courage on those on our own side, and to make it known to the others that they have not convinced us.' (cf. http://diversitychronicle.wordpress.com/disclaimer/). Erik Thorson is not concerned with perpetuating truth of passing right information per say, but just to annoy and create a literary comical satire. So, why should the Vatican meddle in what from the beginning, the author consented to as a satirical and a comical spree? If the Vatican condescends to responding to this shoddy claim, it would only amass to fostering the mediocrity. Dan Brown in his popular suspense, The Da Vinci code, made a disclaimer that his work was an art of fiction, hence, the Catholic Church and Christendom at large was not too perturbed with the mountains made out of his molehill.
The issues generated from this blogger post are very revealing and stunning. The point that many have had to swallow and appropriate claims to the Pope on this account, uncovers the fact that, we live in a 'generation of unverifiability'. Verifiable statements of the Pope could be seen in the Vatican's site (www.vatican.va), in L'Osservatore Romano; an official Weekly Newspaper of the Vatican, in official documents of the Church like: Motu Proprio, Instructio, encyclicals, decrees, declaration, Apostolic Letters and Exhortations, etc. and not in individual blogs. There are many things that are exalted without any prune or poke at the source. People arrogate to themselves a position and a title they don't occupy or have and no one verifies. A man walks up to a Police Officer and declares an intimidating personality and without verification, he is granted access on that account. People forge certificates of academic qualification and without verification; we accept their evidence and place them in power. The foolery just continues in a sad vicious circle.
The unfortunate reality this mirrors is the richness of our naivety. Sadly too, it is a pointer to the degenerated paralysis of reading in our today's society. This issue is not making many rounds in the Oriental world the way we have been fooled by its contents here. If the foundation of a thing is false, then, the conclusion cannot be anything but false. There is no way falsehood can give birth to truth. This is just the problem of religious propaganda. While freedom of speech accommodates the freedom of dissent, the onus of right judgment is incumbent on the one absorbing it or not. One can only be fooled, if he/she chooses to be fooled. But to play the fool is a freedom for anyone. There are people who want to make mockery of our religious beliefs but it becomes mockery when we accept them as facts to be contested or accepted.
There is another point that makes the satire all the more funny. It is the buzz about the Third Vatican Council. The Catholic Church has had only two Vatican Councils: the first convoked was by Pope Pius IX on June 29, 1868 and after a period of planning, formally opened on December 8, 1869 and adjourned on October 20, 1870. The Second Vatican Council opened under the pontificate of Pope John XXIII on October 11, 1962 and closed under Pope Paul VI in 1965. These were the last two Ecumenical councils held of the twenty-one Ecumenical Councils held in the Church's history so far. An ecumenical council is a conference of ecclesiastical dignitaries and theological experts convened to discuss and settle matters of Church doctrine and practice in which those entitled to vote are convoked from the whole world and which secures the approbation of the whole Church. Thus, it is not a council that could be convoked in a short period of time. It usually takes a period of more than two years as preparatory period leading to the eventual conference. In which case, it involves the world and the publicity is often too overt not to have been noticed or known. The blog claimed that the Third Vatican Council was concluded within six months of meeting. This is unimaginable.
The teaching authority of the Pope is not in question. The Catholic Church remains a conscience for the world. The teachings in the Church are not formulated the way public policies are made. They do not rest on personal policy preferences of the Pope's opinion. They utterly rest on revealed truth that is not open to change by human beings, yet, knowable by all as true, even by the light of natural reason and the voice of conscience. The Catholic Church is termed archaic and too conservative because of this. But Truth is immutable. It does not change with weather or circumstance. The Ten Commandments are very old, yet they are as obligatory as they were over 2000 years ago. That is because the norms are true even by natural law. Man-made laws in the Church can change but, those that are divinely revealed cannot. Donald Cardinal Wuerl, the Archbishop of Washington corroborates this in better terms, 'The Church simply cannot declare that abortion is acceptable or a good thing, no matter how popular that cultural belief might be, even among some Catholics. It cannot simply announce that there are no moral parameters to human activity. Neither the Pope, nor bishops, nor a majority of faithful can declare that the unjust taking of what belongs to others - stealing - is morally acceptable or a good thing.' The Pope cannot deflect from the Tradition of the Church in matters of Faith and Morals to teaching his personal opinion. His task is to pass it on and that is the meaning of Tradition, 'handing it on'. Thus, the thoughts about the Third Vatican Council and all the farce of Pope Francis' alleged unorthodox teachings are products of a cheap satire which are nothing but a hoax.
• Ikhianosime is a Catholic Priest of the Diocese of Auchi and Secretary of the Diocesan Clergy.