Pope Innocent XIV drops dead three days into the job. But the afterlife, much like his reign, proves a bit of a disappointment. First, his guide, winged hat aside, is practically naked and thinks everything’s a bit of a joke. The Lord God calls him goy and tells him to bugger off; and come the day of Judgement his judges turn out to be human, and not even remotely saintly.
Then there’s the culture shock. The only three-in-one deity around is a she, and she’s terrifying. Not to mention all those divine birthday parties – none of which is for Jesus, despite it being December, because, apparently, He was born in August. But the worst part of all is that, despite his best efforts to explain, no one seems to want to understand that there’s nothing quite so evil in the world as condoms.
Pope Innocent XIV, né Polycarp Njue Wako, the first ever black Cardinal to be elected to the seat of St Peter, reigned for the grand total of three days – thus gaining for himself the dubious honour of henceforth heading the list of shortest-reigning Popes. The previous record holder, Pope Urban VII, trailed now at a distant second place, far behind him, with a reign of a full thirteen days.
Pope Innocent XIV dropped dead, quite suddenly, at the age of 73, while happily composing his Papal Inauguration homily. An asymptomatic and, as such, undiagnosed cerebral aneurysm chose that precise moment, to pop – with the holy father’s new, 55,000 euro white-gold and diamond Mont Blanc fountain pen, a congratulatory gift from the African Cardinals on the occasion of his election to the Pontificate, suspended, for a moment, between the word clergy that he had just finished writing with a flourish, and the one that would follow it. Only that next word never came, for Polycarp Njue Wako, henceforth to be known as Innocent XIV, the 266th – according to modern reckoning – Bishop of Rome, rather abruptly vacated his hard-won Holy See and departed the world.
Rather bemused, Innocent XIV watched the commotion that ensued feeling more than a little cheated, and bitter, that he should have been plucked away from this vain world just when he had achieved his lifetime ambition, without first being given the opportunity to savor it, to enjoy its well-earned benefits, and of course to dedicate some years to the governing of the Church, to be allowed to put his own personal stamp on it. To be Infallible.
He had only been Infallible for three days – hardly much, by any reckoning – and, though he had known he was Infallible, he hadn’t really had the opportunity to demonstrate his Infallibility to the world at large, by either word or deed. He hadn’t even had the chance to finish writing his homily. And there were so many things he wished to say about condoms … Not in the Inauguration homily, of course, that would have been inappropriate, the homily would have revolved around the selfless dedication of the Church and its priests to the service of humanity and God, an extolling of it as a force for good in the world; but later, at the first opportunity, condoms would certainly have been mentioned at length.
And it was only a few days before Christmas. He would have given his first Urbi et Orbi address, offered remission of all sins to millions of people gathered at St Peter’s Square, or watching the ceremony on television, or listening on the radio, (for no reason other than that they were doing so), and now this was not to be.
Yes, Innocent XIV felt cheated.