In the Prologue to Papal Dreams, we meet ‘the archbishop’ on the eve of a conclave to elect a new pope. The archbishop is ensconced in his apartment at the Domus Sanctae Marthae, just a stone’s throw from the Vatican. Although not a man to count his chickens before they hatch, the archbishop fully expects to be elevated to the papacy on the morrow. His elevation has been his destiny, he firmly believes, since the day of his Confirmation, when his mother whispered to him that one day he would be pope. The archbishop finishes a celebratory glass of wine, peering tearfully upon the Holy Cross, and retires to his bed chamber. In the middle of the night, the Archbishop awakens to find a figure standing at the foot of his bed. He is horrified! He could be severely censored for having a nocturnal visitor in his apartment. In a Dickensian flash, the archbishop finds himself sitting in the Sistine Chapel peering at Galileo, who is standing on the altar platform. In the background is Michelangelo’s chilling Last Judgment.
In Parts I and II of Papal Dreams, we are witness to an oft-contentious, oft-entertaining repartee between Galileo (and Giordano Bruno) on one side and the archbishop on the other, concerning several matters relating to Church dogma and practice. (Most of these exchanges are confined to two or three pages each.) Along the way, we learn more about the archbishop, including that a younger sister had committed suicide in her early twenties, and that the archbishop had once travelled to Fatima, Portugal, to beg the intersession of the Blessed Virgin on behalf of a dear friend.
The insights informing these two sections, accumulated over a period of years, collectively serve to expose deep flaws in the Catholic Church’s theological underpinnings. In this regard, whereas most instruments of criticism targeting the Catholic Church dwell on Church behavior (sexual predation of minors, burning ‘heretics’ and ‘witches’ at the stake, hypocrisy, arrogance, lavish clerical living, cover-ups of clerical malfeasance, corruption, mistreatment of Jews, subordination of women, decimation of aborigine cultures, et al), Papal Dreams focuses on the various corners the Church has painted itself into in proclaiming or interpreting God’s infallible truth, and declaring its own infallibility regarding this truth. Take, as one small example, the Church’s claim that the Christian Godhead consists of three coequal ‘persons.’ How can this be true, Galileo asks, if one of these three coequal persons is ‘the father’ and another is ‘the son?’ Is father-son a coequal relationship? You can’t have it both ways! Either all three persons in the Holy Trinity are perfectly equal – there is no hierarchy, implied or otherwise – or they are not.
In Part III of Papal Dreams, we are introduced to an unexpected Creation that does not depend for its existence on either a creator god or a random quantum-mechanical fluctuation. (There is mind-blowing stuff here!) In the Epilogue, we accompany the archbishop to his sister Beatrice’s grave, and to the family of Andrew Foxx, a man the archbishop had secretly loved and shamefully betrayed.