Friday, October 2, 2015

Another Unreal Audience with a Pope

Edmund and Judith were thrilled. They would see Pope Paul VI on their second honeymoon as they had Pope Pius XII on their first.

On Saturday morning they duly appeared at Msgr. Testastorta's office. He rose from his desk and came towards them with both hands extended: "What an honour to meet the heir of the great Ruffamo family! I wrote my thesis for my degree in diplomacy on the foreign policy of Innocento XI Odescalchi, in which Cardinal Ruffamo played so important a part. And what an able diplomat is your cousin Lord Stanningfield! He showed me a photograph of your castello in England. It is truly magnificent.

"Now, on Tuesday you are to have an audience with His Holiness. No, you need not come in evening dress; just a dark suit for the gentlemen and long sleeves and skirts below the knees for ladies. Ah! So you had an audience with Pius XII. We have simplified and humanized things a lot since them. And in what language would you like the audience to be conducted? His Holiness's English is not very fluent but I could act as interpreter. Ah! You both speak French. That is good. His Holiness speaks French perfectly."

Judith did not mention that she spoke Italian as well because Edmund did not.

Testastorta continued. "Is there any subject which you wish to bring particularly to His Holiness's attention? Do you wish to express the feelings of English Catholics on any particular problem facing the Holy Father and the council?"

Neither of them was prepared for this question. Judith was the first off the mark. "Yes, I wish to appeal to His Holiness for the retention in England of the immemorial Latin Mass in the name of our martyrs and, in the particular instance, of the Blessed Gregory Rougham. You see, in England we Catholics are a minority and it is in no small measure the traditional Latin Mass which gives that minority its cohesion."

"Exactly, Mrs. Rougham," said the monsignor. "I understand you perfectly. You feel that the council's objective in creating the necessary atmosphere for ecumenicity would be best fostered by preserving the Catholic minority's rite and rights."

"No, Monsignor," said Judith, "I was not thinking of ecumenicity and our separated brethren. You see, I am a convert and am consequently in a positon to feel, quite disinterestedly, that even cradle Catholics have rights."

"Ah! You are a convert, Mrs. Ruffamo. How wonderful! Of course it is so difficult for you to see that what you have rejected has rights as well."

"Don't talk nonsense, Monsignor. Of course Protestants have rights, but it does not prevent them from being wrong."

It may be remembered from her first meeting with Miss Portia Sowerby that Judith was not the easiest person in the world to interview.

"You are the reincarnation of Santa Caterina, Mrs. Ruffamo. And you, Don Edmundo, is there anything you wish to bring to the Holy Father's special attention?"

Edmund had had time to collect his thoughts. "Yes, in the first place I should like to appeal for the canonization of the English Martyrs and in particular for that of Blessed Gregory Rougham."

"I feel sure the Holy Father would welcome such an appeal – especially if you reminded him that in the final analysis they died for liberty of conscience."

"But they didn't!"

The monsignor just shrugged his shoulders.

Edmund continued. "Then, for the last two years we have constantly heard the Church's laws on contraception derided by eminent ecclesiastics. I should like to express my gratitude to the Holy Father for having excluded the subject from the council's deliberations. However, I fail to see why he should set up a special commission to study the matter. I, as a married man, must make my decision tonight. I cannot set up a special commission of aunts and uncles to decide what I am going to do here and now. We all know what the Church has always thought. Even a moment's hesitation makes it appear that the Church can be in error."

"Thank you so much," said Testastorta, "for expressing so clearly the problems which you wish to bring to the Holy Father's attention. They are of great importance. I just make a note so that the Holy Father may be prepared to answer you. Yes, in French. Here is your biglietto. Be sure that you are in the vestibule by 10:30 a.m. in case His Holiness is on the early side. I shall see you on Tuesday as I shall be accompanying His Holiness during the audiences. It has been a great honour to meet you, Mrs. and Mrs. Ruffamo, and I hope that when I next come to England I shall be able to see the great castello."

So that was all in order. Edmund and Judith had less free time in Rome than they had expected. There was so much they wanted to see again but too little time to see it. Try as she would, Judith could not recapture the emotions of her honeymoon. She no longer felt that Rome belonged to her and she to it, that it was the expression of her faith. Something had changed. Its monuments were no longer throbbing with joy and life. They formed the sad – almost to the point of being painful – mausoleum to Rome's departed glory.

Tuesday soon arrived. Judith and Edmund were duly in the vestibule by 10:30 a.m. His Holiness was not on the early side. It was well past eleven when they were shown into a large antechamber. It was not the one in which they had seen Pius XII. Although not dissimilar it was considerably bigger. It had two doors opposite each other at the far end of the room from the windows. It was not going to be a private audience after all but a semi-private one. Three other groups besides the Roughams were ushered in as well. Three Italian priests were placed halfway along the wall immediately to the left of the door by which all had entered. A couple of American women were placed between the windows. Two aged and one young Far Easterners, Indo-Chinese perhaps, were opposite the Italian priests. The Roughams were placed opposite the Americans and between the two doors. They waited another half-hour before the Pope entered by the door to the Roughams' left, accompanied by Msgr. Testastorta and a security man dressed as a flunky. Testastorta guided the Pope straight to the Italian priests. The Roughams therefore knew that they would be last on the list.

Judith understood Italian perfectly well but she could not quite hear. It was clear that the priests had come to thank the Holy Father for some benefit received by their congregation. They presented him with a beautifully bound book and a little statue carved in amber which Judith would have liked to have seen at close quarters. Testastorta took the gifts. The conversation between the priests and Pope was animated and pleasant. Although she could not distinguish the words, the Pope's tone of voice was very affable, as of a man who wished to please. The interview might have dragged on for quite a long time had Testastorta not put an end to it. Judith felt that she had judged Paul VI too harshly on the strength of his photographs.

His Holiness then moved on to the American ladies. They were both good-looking women of about forty but too well-groomed – mechanically, impersonally. Judith had no difficulty understanding. One of the ladies spoke fluent Italian at the top of her voice. They represented CWAC. They had brought a petition signed by a quarter of a million free American Catholic women begging the Holy Father to bless their association and urging him to make sure that this wonderful, world-renewing council did not close without passing pastoral legislation in line with its objective. Judith could not hear the Pope say a word. It was Testastorta who was affable and encouraging. This interview too might have lasted longer but this time it was Pope Paul who put a sudden end to it. Later, on the way out, Judith learned that CWAC stood for Catholic Women's Association for Contraception.

His Holiness then moved on to the Far Easterners. One of the two old men did the talking, the other nodding assent. The young man was the interpreter. Judith was deeply struck by both of the old gentlemen. Refinement and dignity must still exist in the East although difficult to locate in the West. Unfortunately, she could not hear. The translator spoke very quickly in a soft as well as a low-pitched voice. It was clear that things were not going too well. She could hear odd words of Paul VI: trust, obedience, peace. The nodder started to cry. The nodder fell on his knees and gesticulated with his wonderfully neat oriental hands. The translator gave up. Testastorta pulled the Pope's elbow. The orientals knelt as he gave them his blessing but the nodder was up like a bullet and said in broken French: "Take this! At least take this!" He produced a document. It was too late; the Pope and Testastorta had already turned to the Roughams. But the flunky took the document.

The Pope and the monsignor came forward to about halfway between the easterners and the Roughams. They stopped and Judith could hear Testastorta say to the Pope: "They are of no interest – sono degli integristis inglesi – they are English traditionalists." The Pope took another step forward but Testastorta was too quick for him. He left the Pope and came straight at Edmund: "The Holy Father is behind schedule, but I shall see to it that he is made acquainted with your observations. Please kneel for the papal blessing." They obeyed. He waved to the Pope to give his blessing. He obeyed. Pope, monsignor and flunky disappeared through the door to the Rougham's right.

So that was that.

It was 12:30 before Judith and Edmund emerged from the Vatican. They found a congenial trattoria for lunch. Judith told Edmund what she understood of the conversations, ending up with: "They are of no interest – just English traditionalists." Edmund was obviously deeply upset. Something had snapped in his makeup.

Judith did not react in the same way at all. The audience – or lack of it – did not worry her. What puzzled her was Pope Paul's eyes. She had seen from photographs that he had weak hands and no lips, but she had thought that his eyes looked human enough. Although quite humourless, she imagined that they craved for understanding, even affection. She had seen his eyes very clearly when he had turned from the easterners to Edmund and herself. Indeed, while Testastorta had spoken to Edmund, the Pope's eyes and hers had met. For an appreciable time, for something like twenty seconds, they had stared at each other.

No, there was no affection there nor the craving for it. Those large brown eyes hypnotized her. Less expressive only than the hands, eyes can radiate so much: joy or sorrow, openness or cunning; generosity or meanness – the whole gamut of human attitudes. What was it exactly that the Pope's eyes radiated? That was the wrong word: they expressed something but radiated nothing. Somehow they were negative. It was not suffering they expressed nor sorrow. Melancholy was nearer to the mark but the term was too poetic and too weak. They were wells of loneliness dropping into an abyss of sadness, a sort of primeval sadness before the first day dawned. Neither did they evoke pity and compassion. To Judith they seemed terrifying. She dared not mention her reaction ot Edmund. He was bad enough as it was.

They saw Ronnie that evening. He merely burst into laughter. "It's all my fault, entirely my fault! You see, one gets so used to Roman ways that one forgets to warn people. I ought to have primed you to tell Testastorta that you had come to Rome on purpose to inform the Holy Father of the enthusiastic reception among English Catholics of the decrees on the mass media, the reform of the liturgy and above all Lumen Gentium. You would then have had a pucka private audience in which you could have said what you liked. My dear, innocent cousins, what a bloomer! Thank God I'm not a Papist or I should have had to resign my post as being tarred with the integriste brush. As a respectable Protestant I am fortunately above suspicion…"

— Bryan Houghton, Judith's Marriage, 1987, pp. 165–170.