Jesuit Father James Martin, who appears here and there as an Authoritative Catholic Source (and he is), threw a classic rant on Facebook the other day:
The conclave hasn't even started, and I'm already submerged by a sea of stupid articles, idiotic commentary and boneheaded op-eds about the Catholic Church, by people who have no clue what they're talking about. I'm not talking about people with whom I disagree, or who challenge me with new ways of thinking about the church, but writers who seem completely clueless about the most basic concepts. Some of this is to be expected: the church is a highly complex institution with 2,000 of history behind it.
Exterior, Domus Sanctae Marthae, Vatican City.
But the number of misinformed articles I've read about celibacy, the priesthood, the papacy, the church in this country, the causes of the sexual abuse crisis, church authority, papal infallibility, the role of the magisterium, life in a religious order, the vow of chastity, and Benedict XVI, just boggles the mind. Or at least my mind, which perhaps is too easily boggled. Needless to say, I don't expect commentators to know everything about the church. (I sure don't.) But I think it's a reasonable to expect that people should refrain from commenting (especially publicly) on stuff that they clearly don't know much about.
Father Martin, oddly enough, gives me hope for the future of the Society of Jesus. Note, if you will, that he didn't call the authors "stupid", "idiotic" and "boneheaded", because he's fully aware that intelligent people will occasionally say dumb things. (Evidence A for the prosecution: Your Humiliated Blogger's prediction that Obama would go down to defeat.)
In show business, they call it "vamping": improvising dialogue and other business when someone has gone off-script, or a prop hasn't appeared when it was supposed to, or the hands are having a problem with a scene change. The chattering classes vamp as well, particularly when they have to kill time between Event A and Event B: they try to fill the gap with any kind of noise they can make to create the impression that they're reporting something of interest. And that is a trap just waiting for victims to step into it.
Which is all by way of leading up to something I read on FOXNews that nearly caused me to do a Danny Thomas spit-take: Bryan Llenas of FOX News Latino was desperately trying to evoke a John Le Carré/Robert Ludlum atmosphere concerning all the different meetings and kaffe klatsches that will take place during the conclave, as cardinals meet and part to push different candidates. However, as one of his primary sources, Fr. Michael Collins, admitted, "These guys … don’t want to be away from their mobile phones and computers that long, it’s going to be very boring." As skulduggery goes, it's pretty tame stuff.
In the middle of it came this howler:
Once the congregation meetings are over, the actual conclave or election process will begin. During that time, the cardinals are housed in a posh hotel, Casa Santa Marta [i.e., Domus Sanctae Marthae], on the Vatican grounds. Cardinals are not allowed contact with the outside world during the conclave: no laptops, mobile phones or use of wi-fi. Each cardinal gets his own room.
- Associated with the upper classes.
- She talks with a posh accent.
- Stylish, elegant, exclusive (expensive).
- After the performance they went out to a very posh restaurant.
- Snobbish, materialistic, prejudiced, under the illusion that they are better than everyone else; usually offensive (especially in Scotland and Northern England).
- We have a right posh git moving in next door.
Excuse me ... we are talking about the Domus Sanctae Marthae, right? Let's get a look at these luxurious digs, courtesy of His Hermeneuticalness, Fr. Tim Finigan:
Okay, a marble-floor lobby. Nice touch. But you'll notice that there isn't much more to it than that.
Along with 22 single rooms and one apartment, the Domus has 106 suites. This is the bedroom half. Almost pagan in its creature comforts, n'est-ce pas?
And here is the sitting room. Donald Trump couldn't do any better.
Over six years of my working life were spent booking rooms for two major hotel chains. And I gotta tell ya — a Renaissance or Adams Mark this ain't. If anything, this is a devout monk's conception of a business-class hotel. It does have a dining room, several conference rooms, plus a main chapel and two smaller chapels to accomodate private Masses. So it is a bit more than an ecclesial Motel 6.
But no mezzanine with deluxe shopping. No pool with swim-up entrances and tiki bar; in fact, the one "bar" it has consists of two vending machines, one for coffee and one for soft drinks. No California King beds with 17"-deep mattresses and small mountains of pillows. If you want to watch TV, there are a couple of rooms with six straight-backed chairs in them (however, the satellite receiver will be turned off for the conclave) — no in-room X-Box, Skinemax or Netflix ... which is just as well.
Mind you, I'm not saying that the beds are uncomfortable, or that the food is substandard; that's not what the "star system" is about. But if you're not there on Church business, you don't want to stay there on vacation. Retreat, yes; vacation, no. Give it two and a half stars for its unique amenities, but don't push it further.
Now, all this information is readily available on the Web. However, the "five-star hotel" trope fits better into the non-Catholic imagination of what Vatican City must really be like (because you know the Catholic Church is, like, really really rich). And so the Myth of the Five-Star Vatican Hotel goes its merry way, inviting reporters like poor Bryan Llenas to repeat it as fact while they vamp to fill the pre-conclave dead air.
Alas, when the conclave comes to an end, errors about the Catholic Church won't.
Update: May 6, 2014
A couple of readers have complained that the pictures above are of a "basic" room, that there are fancier rooms in the Domus. No, I didn't; perhaps the single room looks like the bedroom half of a suite. One reader, "waughfull", provided a link to Deacon John Giglio Jr.'s blog Mary Our Mother, which reprints one of Robert Moynihan's conclave posts. Two pictures are of interest:
This is the bedroom half of Pope Francis' suite, Room 201. Nice heavy wooden furniture ... but not much else in the way of amenities.
This is the main chapel of the Domus, not part of any room. I don't know why anyone would attend Mass here, when St. Peter's is only a couple hundred feet away.
Folks, if you have links to the supposedly more luxurious suites at the Domus, by all means provide them. Perhaps if all you're used to is Red Roof Inns or Holiday Inns, the pictures above would look pretty luxurious. But it's not "posh" by any reasonable person's interpretation of the word; it falls well short of truly well-appointed, upscale hotels like the Ritz-Carlton and Four Seasons chains provide. They're nice rooms; don't get me wrong. But they're no nicer than the rooms in any Roman hotel which gets plenty of tourist trade. The Domus Sanctae Marthae is not a luxury hotel; that's all there is to it.