Could there be a better papal sendoff?

Mar. 20, 2013 @ 05:45 AM

Just what kind of retirement party do you give a pope?  Since the Vatican has adhered to a “no pope left behind” policy for the past 600 years, this was surely a puzzler when Pope Benedict voluntarily cashed in his cassock last month.

Most popes, you see, are carried out feet first. Not since Gregory XII, in 1415, has a pope left office under his own steam.

So when Pope Benedict gave his two weeks notice, there was little time for the Vatican papal party planners to organize an elaborate shindig. As a result, a rather shoddy farewell reception was hastily thrown together.

But this need not be the case for future premature papal abdications if the Vatican introduces new celebratory protocols immediately.

To begin with, the farewell party should be an elegant affair. I don’t think it was appropriate to give Benedict a pot-luck luncheon, even if there was plenty of angel food cake on hand. And whoever brought the deviled eggs needs some serious timeout in the confessional.

It was also apparent that the event lacked coordination when guests began arriving with duplicate dishes. Catholics have a good sense of humor, but did everyone have to bring along a plate of Ex-Benedict?

And what about those crazy cardinals who were clearly giddy on too much incense? What were they thinking — shamefully sending Benedict out at the last minute in the Popemobile to pick up a bucket of wings and slaw at the local Church’s Chicken Drive-thru. That’s just not right!

Fortunately, Pope Benny was a good sport and enjoyed one last spin around the block.  But he was still disappointed when told he couldn’t keep the Popemobile after retirement.

“No Your Holiness,” the cardinals cautioned. “The job came with free room and board, but the company car stays for the new guy.”

Another papal retirement consideration is the selection of suitable gifts. You just don’t send a pope packing with a flagon of Holy Water and two weeks supply of communion wafers. And who was the guy that presented the pontiff with the tee-shirt inscribed with the catchy phrase “Abstinence makes the heart grow fonder”?

So what is appropriate to give a soon-to-be pope emeritus guy?

Clearly, gifts should be simple but tasteful. And honestly, you can’t go wrong with sporting gear. I would recommend a handy new sports bag for those Wednesday bowling nights with the Dalai Lama. I believe the Vatican gets a discount in the sporting department of the local See’s store.

In the event that His Ex-eminence remains active, the bag could also be used for his sports gear should he make the Vatican soccer team. No kidding. It turns out that Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, actually created a Vatican soccer team in 2000 — and no, they’re not called the Cardinals.

At 85-years-old, however, I don’t think Benedict will make the team. Which is a shame. He’d make an excellent goalie, especially after playing defense at the Vatican for so many years.

Finally, there’s the question of entertainment. This is quite appropriate at a farewell papal event, provided the performers are low-key and dignified.

Sure, rolling in a giant cake was a nice way to thank Pope Benedict for eight years of Hail Mary’s. I just think it was ill-conceived to hire a couple of nuns to leap out, wiggle their Rosary beads, and sing “Na Na Na Na, Hey Hey Hey, Goodbye.”

I do hope the Vatican takes these suggestions into consideration because, let’s be frank, it’s unwise to send a disgruntled pope into retirement after a crappy sendoff. With all that free time, he might be tempted to revisit church scandals in a tell-all book.

And the last thing the pope-in-waiting wants to see atop the New York Times best seller list is a tawdry missive with a title like “Roman Rites and Wrongs.”


Thomas’ features and columns have appeared in more than 300 magazines and newspapers, including the Washington Post, LA Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, San Francisco Chronicle, and Christian Science Monitor. He can be reached at his blog: