The College of Cardinals shuffled nervously into the papal audience chamber. No one seemed to know what to do with their hands (which, considering the centuries of rosary beads present, revealed quite a lot). This wasn't the fear of facing an angry headmaster. That was their job. Maintaining that fear was their entire business model. No one wanted to say it, but none could deny the shared sentiment: When things get so screwed up that even the pope gives up on dealing with your shit, you may be in trouble.
"Wait, can we just absolve each other? Does God check for credit swaps?"
The silence was broken, along with the gilt-paneled doors, by the boot of a giant Swiss Guard. The comically attired soldier charged into the room, a grinning pope clutching his shoulders like the wrinkled Yoda of a significantly less effective Force.
"WHEEEEEEEEEEE!" the pope cried gaily, using that adjective for the first time in his professional career. The guard completed a full circuit of the room before depositing a smiling apostle of St. Peter on the papal throne, wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Sorry, I just wanted to see if they'd do that. And they would! They'll do anything I say! You: Take off your pants!"
Staring straight ahead, eyes never focused on anything closer than one thousand yards, the Swiss Guard grabbed his pants and tore them away like the throat of a threat to the leader of the Holy See. Strangely, standing pantsless before the assembled clergy of the Vatican actually increased his dignity, because it meant wearing less of his ridiculous costume.
And you will know the true fear of God if he drops that banner.
The pope sat back, tilting his miter to a rakish angle.
"All right, all right, let's get on with this. This is my last day, and I've seen enough cop movies to know that means I need to stay indoors and file paperwork. This close to finally having some me time, I am NOT in the mood to forgive assassins."
"That's why I'm undercover as Santa."
"We've got a lot to cover, and I only have" -- Benedict XVI checked his watch, which meant a microscopic muscle movement picked up on only by the laser focus of the Swiss Guard, who flexed across the throne to present his watch for the pope's perusal -- "14 hours of infallibility to get through it. So check this out:
"I, the Roman pontiff, now speak ex cathedra to define a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole church. That doctrine is that everything else I say today is assumed, as an article of faith, to be prefixed by that same infallible cheat code."
The apostle of St. Peter slapped his hands together. "There, that should speed things up."
"Infallibility says I'm right because I say I'm right and I'm infallible."
A cardinal genuflected his way forward, dropping his face to avert his gaze from the pope, which unfortunately meant staring down at the revealed might of the Swiss Guard, who had dropped his banner to satisfy the Petrine authority's temporal needs.
"Your Holiness, I fear there may be doubt about such blanket use of papal authority ... "
The pope raised his holy hand, palm out, then twisted it into a new gesture. The Swiss Guard pivoted with his halberd to hack the word "INFALLIBLE" into the nearest priceless wall-hanging tapestry with the blade.
"That was a trap, cardinal, and you fell into it. Your new name is Cardinal Ackbar."
"With respect, Your Eminence, by the grace of God I am Cardinal Uomodipaglia."
"Are you talking to me? I don't see any other humble messengers of the word sitting in a papal throne with a net worth of trillions, you must be talking to me."
The pope snapped his fingers (quite literally, as one of the brittle bones popped), and the windows exploded as an entire regiment of Swiss Guards burst through priceless stained glass to rappel from zip lines, rolling and contorting to spell "INFALLIBLE" with their bodies. It took less than five seconds.
"Nope, you're Ackbar now. And it's not so funny to have given me a Twitter account anymore, is it? Now be quiet before I make Tron guy the new cardinalial attire. Also, 'cardinalial' is now a word because I'm infallible."
"How's this for a costume, compadre? Think your ass could pull this off?"
"First: There are no longer gender divisions in the church. I spent the whole night searching the depths of my soul, then in the morning I spent one second looking at the calendar and it is the Year of Our Lord 2013. As in, 'Jesus, it's 2013.' I don't know how we've been allowed to maintain such stupidly illegal levels of sexism across the entire planet this long, but every possible answer is depressing. So I'm binning it."
The assembled cardinals exploded in protest, each shouting to be heard above the others. Benedict reclined in the throne, savoring his personal papal fragrance and enjoying the feel of his custom-made clothes. The cardinals gradually fell silent as they realized that the ancient tribal shamanic structures they argued in defense of were the exact same ones that compelled their obedience. Benedict had the biggest hat, so he was in charge. That was the rule. They'd known that from their first unmillinered moments in the church, gazing longingly at the head wear of power.
"From now on, women can be priests and men can be nuns. I can't understand how the Y chromosome is required to interpret divine wisdom for congregations. Is the dick an antenna for divine signals? Because, seriously, they're apparently great fun, but they're the last things I'd expect to pick up on selflessness and grace. In fact, if I was specifying one randomly restricted group to tend toward spiritual purity, men who've been forbidden from having sex or masturbating for decades is like the last one."
The conduit of heavenly power on Earth leaned on his staff for a time, calling to mind a patient shepherd tending his flock, or maybe an octogenarian who couldn't even sit upright without assistance.
Just one more day, Benedict, then you won't have to be Pope Egg Breakfast anymore.
"Because when you utterly exclude a group from your organization, it starts getting a bit weird. You end up with massive, backed-up dicks blaming domestic violence on women not cleaning the house well enough. Or a group of men going on record for attacking their own nuns for trying to help people instead of hating gays enough. Holy God -- who I apparently talk to, remember -- how bad are we trying to be? We're publicly attacking women! Women who are also nuns, on our side, and doing charity work! Then we canonically stated that ordaining women was as bad as sexually abusing minors! That after 10 years of international headlines saying that of all people, we would know about that. I had to check that our announcement wasn't an Onion article! There are Bond villains not that bad. God, there are Saw villains not that bad!"
Though MI6 have had problems with ninja nuns.
Cardinal Ackbar raised his eyes, the slight smirk of a man who knows he won't have to deal with this tomorrow in the corners of his mouth.
"Of course, Your Holiness. Alas, these ecumenical changes will take some time to pass through committee. May God see you safe and grant you the strength to endure the long years of difficult debate and-"
"Nope. YouTubed it this morning. Infallibly uploaded. If even one of you had a smartphone, you'd know already. I'm lucky you guys still communicate by smoke signals."
"SEND MORE COAL LOL"
"Speaking of the Internet, masturbation is OK, too. Have we really been telling people 'masturbation is an intrinsically and seriously disordered act'? Who does it hurt? Don't say 'God,' because he made our arms the right length.
"I've been reading at some science textbooks -- and wow, those people have been doing some awesome stuff since we stopped trying to set fire to them -- and unless somebody forgot a storage bladder or pressure release valve between the testicles there, those things are meant to discharge. And as for women, Jesus, my boss and also the son of my boss, which makes me sound like an Alabaman banjo repairman, we don't allow anyone to let ladies feel good as it is. We should at least let them do themselves."
He sat back, wondering if it was possible to get sacramental whiskey for once. The wine was nice and all, but he'd need an entire body of Christ's worth today.
"Finally, it's none of our business if a married couple have opposite genitals. "
Ackbar surged to his feet.
"It's against God's will!"
He strode toward the pope, making it an entire millimeter before a Swiss Guard teleported directly into his path with a halberd held even more directly to his neck. The guard's gaze said that one more step would let him discover God's will directly. Meanwhile, the face of the Catholic church tried not to smirk.
"Buddy, if we were remotely interested in God's will, I wouldn't be a cyborg. They fitted me with a pacemaker because we decided that God's will could and should be held back by a battery. If it's OK for men to poke electrodes into my thoracic cavity, it's OK to poke themselves into each other. That's way more natural. Giraffes and penguins do it, and if you want to send them to hell too, you're just making the place sound more fun. God's creatures great and small do it. Greater in the case of the giraffe, I'd imagine. Actually, I can't wrap my head around giraffes doing it, but I suppose that's a problem they have to deal with, too."
For giraffes, giving head is about seven bases past sex.
"Where do we get off telling people who they're allowed to have sex with? Over young boys, that's what people think! And people making that stupid, offensive joke is our own fault. Not the church's fault, ours -- the Vatican's fault! We have countless truly good people out there, spreading love and hope, people sacrificing everything to work with their communities in every way. And because an ecumenical executive committee decided to play hide-the-pedophile, everyone now views each priest as maybe the worst type of human in existence! The Vatican's moral high ground is now somewhere downstream of the Mariana Trench! We have nuns reclassified as missionaries because they didn't have time to put up with our bullshit while doing charity work!
"I just Tumblred the world telling them not to listen to old celibate men in cosplay talk about sex anymore. Unless that's what they're into. I'm 85 years old! In any other organization, I'd be retired by now. If an 85-year-old tried to tell even his own great-granddaughters how to have sex, at best he'd be ignored. If he commanded them not to use contraceptives, he'd be shipped to a home faster than even omniscience could know!"
When even Prince Charles is clearly humoring your views on marriage, you're more behind than a dodo.
"We're still telling people not to use condoms! We're even telling married couples with children and AIDS not to use condoms! We can't claim that God created the entire universe but can be foiled by a balloon, OK? Latex is not the Lord Our Father's kryptonite. I know we're trying a worker rush on the Religion Time strategy game we think the world is, but this is insane. When they talk about biblical plagues, it's not meant to mean plagues that happened because of the Bible."
"Be that as it may," oozed Uomodipaglia, "We should still set about selecting your successor. You see, we must ensure a continuity of ... uh, Your Grace ..."
The cardinal trailed off, watching His Holiness busily stuffing handfuls of shredding lettuce, cupfuls of pickles, and what appeared to be an entire shredded roast lamb into his hat.
Imagine filling it to the top and using it as a napkin.
"What? No, I'm still listening, but this thing has been making me think of tacos for eight years, and I am doing this. Anyway, you guys don't need to worry about the selection process. You're not involved."
If the school had exploded at ecumenical matters, they outright annihilated local space-time at unemployment.
"Simple rule: Anyone who wears more regalia than a collar and maybe black doesn't know what people are dealing with. Sorry, that's not a rule, that's a basic observation."
Pictured: Men who understand the modern world.
"The next pope will be a priest who actually deals with people, instead of living in a palace-fort built out of priceless artworks. Living literally in your own country where everyone either agrees with you or really, really agrees with you? Doesn't help thinking! You end up arguing over exactly which kind of Latin Mass is valid. It's like Congress voting to live in a solid gold space station -- which would actually cost less to assemble from scratch than the Vatican. And they'd still pay taxes.
"Also, maybe we're not keeping up with the times, or even the centuries, because we choose pensioners as leaders and habitually work them to death."
"And I didn't even need a Gungan to force a vote!"
"I'm 85 years and one stroke old! The only thing I should be providing guidance on now is the custom fit of incontinence diapers. With fewer people than ever going to Mass, my idea was to bring back one that prays that the Jews will come to their senses!
"Christianity's entire deal is providing an awesome role model. We're named after the guy, for His sake. And I've been reading the Bible -- like, a lot -- and I can't find one mention of him infecting people with disease, condemning innocents, hating love, excommunicating people he disagreed with, or even once living in a trillion-dollar mansion of pricelessness. He was, uh, pretty much nonstop the opposite of that."
Pope Benedict XVI stood, summoning the Swiss Guard to help him to the door.
"Anyway, I'm out. I'm going to the balcony, where I'm going to have these guys throw me off and just have the most epic crowd surf in the history of anything."
"WHOEVER CATCHES ME IS AUTOMATICALLY A SAINT!"
Luke McKinney was raised Catholic, and teaching pubescent teens that masturbation is a sin is just the worst dick move. He recently tried to create infinite whiskey in The Homeopathy Experiment, and if you still need professional help dealing with life after death, you should know that The Ghostbusters Are Back.