I don’t believe for a minute that horror over the abuse of children by Catholic clergy is what’s animating Richard Dawkins’ on Pope Benedict XVI. Come on—is Dawkins on record as being similarly outraged over the abuse of children by teachers or Scout troop leaders?
No—this is about another Pope Benedict, one stuck in the craw of every decent English Protestant for two and a half centuries. This is about what that Pope Benedict did, in the long-time-ago days—before the iPod, before the iPad, before the iPhone, before the I-Man (but presumably not before the eyeball). Journey back with me to the dimly dark eighteenth century, when Catholics were objects of ridicule, ire, and fear, and ire, and believed to be in thrall to a foreign prince, who as all good Englishers knew was/is the Antichrist himself. Or a fair semblance therein thereof.
It was early September it was, in seventeen hundred and fifty-two (1752), when the unthinkable happened.
Oh-h-h-h my brothers . . . dare I even say it? How to even describe it? The pope, the bishop of Rome, the putative vicar of Christ on Earth, stole, yes STOLE, 11 days right out of the English calendar.
To steal a man’s wife is bad. To steal his horse is unforgiveable (this is 1752). But to steal his time—who but Beelzebub, or a fair semblance therein thereof, could even manage it, what with his diabolical powers, being the devil and all.
Imagine you’re a poor working-class Englishman, waking up on what you think is September 3, only to learn that it is now September 14—and that it is the pope of Rome who stole your time, almost a fortnight’s worth, right out from under the green green earth, or the blue blue sky, if you prefer, of the unsuspecting Christian folk of Britain.
It’s called the Gregorian calendar now. It had been the Julian. But we know what it really was. It was a sign of the End Times. When “the ninth month ran short, and all good men were suddenly in arrears” (Book IX, chapter 3, The Sad Testament of Sammy Wong, High School Ninja).
There was talk at the time of forming a mighty Armada, preferably one more navigable than the Spanish version, to attack central Italy, invade the papal states, and force Pope Benedict XIV to return those 11 days or die. But the English were just so darn late for everything that they never got around to it.
But they’ve never forgiven the Holy See for those lost 11 days. Payback has been a long time in coming. And we all know what payback is. But this is a family blog.