The Princess stayed the entire day with Frank and the evening, too. The next morning they had breakfast in bed again. She finally left about 9AM. Frank had not told the Princess of his plans to go to Rome. I packed the master’s bags and we headed out to LaGuardia for a four o’clock flight to London. From there we caught a Ryan Air flight to Fiumicino. Frank seemed to be tired for some reason and slept during most of both flights.
Once we got into Rome proper we checked into the Hotel Ponte Sisto. It was one of the older hotels that still had great food and a good bar. Both these were important to Frank’s happiness. Frank always liked to start his big assignments fresh and so for the rest of the day he got adjusted to the time zone by taking in a big meal and plenty of liquids.
In the morning after Frank’s usual morning tasks he told me to arrange for a car. He had me contact the Vatican and made a request to see Monsignor Angelo Pietro on a private matter. Frank knew that once the request reached the priest he would most likely want to see the journalist. The priest was no fool.
“Frank, I have received a
confirmation from the Vatican that the Monsignor is available to meet with you
at 11:00 today. Shall I
“By all means. That does not give us much time. Arrange a car.”
Forty-five minutes later we entered the rental car and drove off to the Vatican. The car took us to the back entrance of the Vatican. This is the one all the employees used. At the desk Frank stated his purpose for being there and was given a badge. I could sense six different frequencies in the microwave range and two in the infrared. They knew exactly what we had with us and within us before we reached the receptionists. I was very impressed, if that is possible for a machine, that the degree of scanning and security was better than for the President of the United States. Bullet proof doors could instantly close if they had any fears.
We were told to take a seat and that the Monsignor’s assistant would come down presently to guide us to his office in the Apostolic Palace. A very young South American sister arrived and introduced herself in English with a very thick Spanish accent. Frank knew a lot of the nuns came from South America. That was still where most of the old time Catholics resided. If an American or European Catholic entered into the service of Christ it was more likely inspired by lesbianism and the realization that many nuns controlled a lot of wealth and power. Schools, colleges and especially hospital networks were big business for the Church.
“It is nice to meet you, Sister. What name do you go by, Sister?” asked Frank.
“I am Sister Maria Delphina.”
“How long have you served at the Vatican?”
“Four years, Senor Huntington.”
“Have you been attached to the Monsignor’s office all that time?”
“No, Senor, I was attached to the merchandizing in the Vatican stores for the tourists. I was only promoted to the Monsignor’s office this last December.”
“I imagine you find your new work much more interesting.”
“I find all my work for God to be interesting.”
I saw that Frank decided not to pursue anymore conversation with the sister. It was very quiet in the lift up to the third floor. The sister walked us right into the Monsignor’s office. Monsignor Angelo Pietro was already standing in front of his desk ready to greet us. He had a wonderful view of St. Peter’s plaza from his office. It was rather large compared to a typical news bureau as well as very posh. Religious art by minor Renaissance artists covered the walls wherever there were not leather bound books. It was as if every highly placed Vatican official had a personal library and chapel.
“Monsignor, thank you for seeing me.”
“It is good to see you, Mr. Huntington. Thank you Sister, you may go. Have a seat.” The Monsignor pointed to a plush chair over by the windows. He sat on the matching chair on the opposite side of the window. Frank was glad they could talk in a less formal way. The Monsignor’s desk was very posh and very braggadocio. The church had a certain reputation to keep for all its office help.
“I read you piece on religion and suicide. Very interesting take, Mr. Huntington. However, I felt you were holding back something.”
Frank gave a crooked smile, “Only you would be aware of that. We have seemed to run into each other a lot.” Frank paused for a second and when he did not hear anything coming out of the Monsignor’s mouth he added, “Why were you in California? You’re not Buddhist.”
This time it was the Monsignor that smiled, “No, I am not. “
“You said something to me before you skipped out of the hospital that kindled my interest. You said that there were other events where atheism has suddenly broken out. What did you mean?”
“Mr. Huntington, before I can be frank with you I need to know how much you know and why I should trust you.”
“I know something caused the sisters and the Buddhists to change their religious feelings instantly. I know that it causes many of these people such a spiritual shock they are driven to suicide. I don’t know why, but in this world most of the time there is a rational reason for something to happen – a cause. Someone has to be behind the cause. Normally, when someone becomes an atheist it is because they rationally and emotionally don’t feel religion answers the big questions in their mind or reflect on what they see in their life that contradicts their religious beliefs. It is usually gradual and not suicidal.”
“How do you think this could be done?”
“The only way I know of is brainwashing, but that takes time and I see no evidence of brainwashing. How could you secretly do an entire group of people like the Buddhists? It is impossible.”
“I think you are right, Mr. Huntington. It would take a lot of brainwashing to do this, but someone has found a new way to brainwash people.”
“Then it has to be drugs?”
“I thought of that, but drugs don’t have such a predictable end. People poison their brains all the time with drugs and many become psychotic.”
“You are right. They can become violent, passive, delusional, simple, and a whole bunch of other behaviors, but none are predictable. Although suicidal seems to affect a lot of these new atheists.”
“It may be someone has developed a highly effective drug. It is possible for a drug to affect the brain in a specific and very narrow way. The priests who have advanced medical degrees do not have any answers as to what drug that might be. They only agree it might be possible to create such a drug. As to the other events I alluded to, you must promise me you will keep it a secret until this mystery has been solved and these manmade conversions to atheism stopped.”
Frank thought for only a second and then said, “You have my word.”
The Monsignor got up and walked over to his desk. Slowly he turned to Frank and said, “First you need to turn off your office boy or send him away.”
“Jack, power down.”
I was down for only forty seconds. I can’t tell you what exactly they said. I can only surmise that Frank convinced the Monsignor to turn me back on, but to encrypt my data with a double password. What that means is both the Monsignor and Frank whispered into my ear a personal password that allowed me to record what was said, but encrypt it. Only if both Frank and the Monsignor ordered me to relay what I heard and confirmed that order with their passwords would I be able to recall it. People do this when they want a record of a conversation, but don’t want it available either voluntarily by me or by some hacker. Robots were often entrusted with secrets that could only be revealed by password or sometimes when certain conditions were met – say the sudden death of the human owner. Since the encryption was quantum encryption it was impossible for any computer in the Universe to crack it.
“Okay Jack, go stand over there.”
The Monsignor got up again and faced Frank directly. “One week before the Buddhist were hit three people in the Vatican experienced the same change the Sisters of St. Clara did.”
“Who?” Frank said quietly. I could tell Frank’s brain was racing, because his heart took off like a bat out of hell. The priest was not exactly in a clam state.
“One of our Swiss Guards and Father Georg, the Secretary of State awoke afflicted. The Swiss Guard had served the Church for ten years. He was found dead in his officer’s quarters with a bullet in his head.”
I could tell the Monsignor was conflicted because he spoke very slowly.
“Who was the third? Frank asked just as slowly.
Both men were quiet a long time. I was surprised Frank did not shower the priest with a thousand questions. The Monsignor got up out of his chair and walked over to his desk. He picked up a small box and opened it. He held it towards Frank and Frank withdrew a cigarette. The priest took one for himself and accepted a light from Frank who then lit his own. The Monsignor was letting Frank mull over this incredible revelation. Finally Frank looked at the Monsignor and asked, “How could anyone get at the pope to do this?”
“A good question. No one in his Holiness inner circle has shown any suspicious activity or has anything to gain from this. Our security is so tight that even the food his Holiness eats is tested and comes from random sources all over Italy.”
“What about the Swiss Guard? How do you know it was not him and the suicide was just a way to cover up his tracks?”
“He did not commit suicide right away. He had already been confined to a hospital bed due to depression from his new loss of faith. I and others had thoroughly questioned him. Unfortunately, he walked out of the Vatican medical suite at three in the morning and went to his office and took his life. He left a note asking God for forgiveness for his lack of faith and blamed himself for failing the Pope.”
“So what is the status of the Pope?”
“Complex. This whole affair is complex. I feel like I am holding the tail of a fractal. His Holiness has become less religious shall we say.”
“I’m sorry Monsignor, but what the hell does that mean?”
“The Pope has not privately been a religious man. I am not saying he was an atheist, but let me say he is more politician than saint.”
“So has he declared he is an atheist?”
“No, but he is less circumspect in his venal interests.”
“What does that mean? A secret subscription to Hustler?”
“No, Mr. Huntington, nothing that crude, but shall we say his Holiness has a lot in common with the Medici Popes of olde.”
“Ah, a mistress. Anyone I know?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact you do.”
The Monsignor at that point decided to have another cigarette and went through the ritual of taking out a smoke, getting it lit, and then taking a very long drag on it. I could see Frank’s mind was racing, but it only took about two seconds and then I could see he was visibly shaken. I think humans call it thunderstruck. Slowly the words came out of Frank’s mouth, ”Not her Highness, Princess Marianne?”
There was another long silence as the Monsignor handed his box of cigarettes to Frank and the Frank went through the ritual of lighting and inhaling. Once that was done Frank handed back the box.
Frank’s color started to come back and I could tell he was getting his focus back.
“How long has the Pope had her as a mistress?”
“It surprised us all at the curia. He had a two day conference on healthcare for the impoverished of the world and the Princess came as a representative of her husband’s business. Sir Terrance's enterprise has revolutionized medicine. The Pope has been impressed with how Sir Terrance did not make his cancer cures so expensive that only the rich could afford it. On the second day of the conference he asked the Princess to attend a private luncheon audience to discuss several ideas his Holiness had. One thing lead to another and the next thing we knew he was indisposed for the rest of the afternoon with her.”
“How do you know they did it?”
“While we do not bug the Pope’s quarters we do monitor for security reasons the seismic vibrations. This is in case there is an attack or attempt to force entrance into the area. Making love seems to have a certain rhythm to it that our sensors picked up.”
“No shit….excuse me Monsignor, but this is too much. I mean, I know the Pope is the third youngest Pope in history to be elected, but he is still almost thirty years her senior.”
The Monsignor smiled at that observation, but did not respond with any words. He put out his cigarette and said, “This is all part of the picture I have pieced together that the Pope’s religious state has been compromised. This sudden rashness and the other two members of the curia leads me to believe the Vatican has undergone the same attack on faith as the other two attacks that you have investigated as I have.”
“Can I see the Pope?” Frank asked in a direct tone
“What do you think you can gain by an audience?”
“First off, I really want to confirm the Pope’s new attitude. Secondly, I would like to ask him what he thinks is behind this. He must have some ideas.”
“There is nothing he could add that I have not discussed with you.”
“Maybe, maybe not. No offense, Monsignor, but you are part of the cloak and dagger department – well maybe not daggers, but you know what I mean.”
“Just remember, this is all off the record. I am hoping you will help us. Attacks like this can cause a lot of damage to the world. Are you familiar with Dostoyevsky?”
“Oh, I bet you are referring to the Grand Inquisitor? Are you afraid Jesus will come back?” Frank asks with a grin.
“No, it is not precisely like that. My reference to Dostoyevsky’s Grand Inquisitor is not a perfect one on one comparison with our situation. However, secularism has turned stones into bread. I believe the Church is the only thing forcing mankind to still deal with free choice of faith. Without faith most of mankind will wallow in a race to the bottom. Look at the culture championed by your country. Self indulgence and mass consumerism. What passes for a family these days barely talk to each other as they are too involved in posting to their 200 friends on Facebook or Renren. I do not mean to give you a sermon, Mr. Huntington, but I believe the world will not be served well if all of a sudden we see religious group after religious group abandon their faith. Like the Grand Inquisitor told Christ mankind is not ready for freedom.”
“While I believe in freedom and truth, I see your point. We have seen too many people flee life when they have suddenly stared at the truth there is no god.”
“And on that last point I must disagree. I do believe there is a god. Off the record I would have to say it may not be precisely the god of the Holy Church, nor of any religion, but a God there is. I believe humans are essentially ill equipped to understand God. The Church may be as imperfect as humanity, but this is the best conception of true religion as we are going to get. If every Muslim, Buddhist and Christian in the world wakes up facing a godless world we would see millions of deaths. It would lead to world instability.”
“Do you really think this is a possibility? So far these religious failures have been isolated and affecting only a few people.”
“Let's go see his Holiness.”
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