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Monty Python at the Vatican

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At the beginning of the famous Monty Python movie, Search For the Holy Grail, there is a very funny scene, set, supposedly, in a plague ridden village. A ragged, hunched and lurching man pulls a cart through the streets, calling "Bring out your dead, bring out your dead!"

A younger, but still misshapen and ragged man leaves a small house, with the body of a much older man slung over his shoulder. The older man is protesting feebly "I don't want to go in the cart." to which the younger man replies "Oh, don't be such a baby."

When the cart puller protests that "He's not dead yet," the son, as he is the son of the older man, answers, "No, but he will be soon and he's just taking up room in the house." The older man is still insisting, "I'll be better tomorrow."

The mortician insists he can't take anyone until they're dead, so after some negotiation, they both bop the older man on the head, killing him. The cart puller then proceeds down the street, taking up his cry "Bring out your dead. Bring out your dead."

The scene is hilariously funny in a macabre sort of way, because it is so outrageously impossible and so blatantly self-serving of the two younger men. It's Monty Python at its best.

It strikes me that the "group of ambitious and reform-minded cardinals" at the Vatican are the ungrateful son, anxious to free up room in the house, and dispose of his father before the old man's time. It strikes me that they deserve as much respect as the ragged, filthy, hunched, misshapen,morally bankrupt and self-serving characters in this skit.

Here's the story.

A debate is raging inside the Catholic Church over whether Pope John Paul II should resign because of his declining health, filling the halls of the Vatican with dark intrigue.

According to recent reports in Italy and Europe, a group of ambitious and reform-minded cardinals believe the pope should step down for the good of the church and are starting a campaign to replace the increasingly frail-looking 79-year-old pontiff.

The pope is suffering from Parkinson's disease and was seen at millennium celebrations moving around on a mobile platform pushed by two attendants.

So intense is the behind-the-scenes power struggle that the pope held an astonishing Christmas week meeting with his senior Vatican staff to quiet the whispering and said he won't step down, according to reports in Italian newspapers.

The pope said he is on a "divine mission," to guide the church into the new millennium "despite personal weakness," the papers reported.

Despite his stance, earlier this week the Byzantine maneuvering broke out into the open when the head of Germany's Catholic bishops created an uproar when he said the church needs a "strong pope," and called on the pontiff to retire if his health problems keep him from doing his duties.

"These are very difficult times for the church, when a pope governs for a very long time and shows signs of physical weakness. I have confidence in the pope that when he feels he is no longer capable of leading the church, he will have the courage to say, "I cannot fulfill this charge as required," Bishop Karl Lehmann, a church reformer and long-standing critic of the Vatican said on German public radio.

Lehmann, who like other reformers has pushed for female priests and married clergymen -- issues the pope has stood firmly against -- later said his remarks were misinterpreted and slanted.

But furious Vatican officials shot back.

Italian Bishop Alessandro Maggiolini said, "Even an elderly father can be the conscience of the church and continue to govern it."

Normally popes serve for life.

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