January 2003

TO: Dennis the Menace
FROM: Wild Bill

They're telling me you wrote a ceremony for the pope's election.

Now I've heard everything.

Admit that this is just another one of your pie-in-the-sky ideas meant to amuse and entertain. If not, then it's got to be a clever cover for only God knows what.

I still can't swallow the fact that you had anything to do with that ecumenical initiative.


TO: Dennis the Menace
FROM: 7-Up

A papal election ceremony from 'The Menace'?

What's this all about? Who's having the last laugh here?


TO: Dennis the Menace
FROM: Mountaintop

Received msgs from Black Jack and the Flying Dutchman. They tell me you wrote a protocol for the papal election.


Asking us to believe that is like telling me to believe that G. Gordon Liddy ran off to join a monastery.

Your as religious as James Bond. So where do you get off telling the Roman Church how to inaugurate it's new Numero Uno? What qualifies you for this sort of thing? Your long resume of black bag jobs and mission impossibles? They'll hand you over to the Inquisition after I hand them the dossier I have on you.

I'll believe it when I see it.


TO: Mountaintop
FROM: Dennis the Menace

When you hand the Holy See that dossier they'll be so impressed with my record they'll give me the honorary Key to the Vatican City and a passport to boot with lifetime perks in the Magic Kingdom.

This whole thing came about because of a discussion I had with Friar Tuck last summer when I visited him. In return for the latest dirt on the Middle East he gave me an explanation of the role of symbol and ceremony in secular and religious life. After that he compared and contrasted the use of symbols in modern tyrannies with the use of symbols in the Christian tradition. When he asked me if there was any one sacrament or church ceremony that interested me in particular, I surprised him when I mentioned the election of the pope.

I always enjoyed a visit to Friar Tuck. On a prior visit we talked about everything from Plato's Republic to the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Besides, he serves the best spirits and knows which monasteries in Europe have the best wine cellars.

Several weeks after my visit, the Friar sent me a copy of that part of the Apostolic Constitution that deals with the election of the Pope. After I read it I wrote back to him and explained that for a church with a very rich liturgical and ceremonial tradition, the climatic moment when a new pontificate is inaugurated seems to me to come off, well, a bit on a flat note. I explained that something more than the utterance of a papal name is needed here. The divine commissioning of Peter as Vicar of the Universal Church by Jesus could be better made present through a brief ceremony that is more than a simple "Yes....You can call me John Paul." That's like the president-elect of the U.S. getting up there at the moment he assumes the presidency and instead of reciting the lofty Oath of Office he says something like "Yes, I accept election. And you can call me Mr. President!"

To this the Friar replied by writing

"OK, Mr. Brahms, instead of complaining about the current situation why don't you do something about it? Go ahead and write a protocol that can be added to the currently existing one. No one else is going to do this so you may as well do it. At my request, the Pope has just appointed a pontifical commission of bishops to take up your suggestion. They are waiting to know what words of advice does Dennis the Menace have to offer to Holy Mother the Church."

To this I replied:

"How about words spoken by Christ himself? They're in Matthew 16:13-19. Why not base a brief ceremony on these words? Friar, I believe I will take up you suggestion."

Several weeks later I sent him a letter with the protocol I wrote based upon the words from Holy Scripture cited above. The complete text of the ceremony is given below. The black colored text refers to current practice the moment the pope-elect accepts election. The red colored text is what I suggest be added to current practice. The numbers contained within parentheses are for easy reference to the endnotes below.

I haven't heard from Friar Tuck but I've heard plenty from others around the world just like you who still can't believe that I had anything to do with the Initiative. But as the old saying goes, "Seeing is believing." So read on and you'll discover for yourself that Black Jack and the Dutchman haven't been tossing you bullshit about me amidst all the plaintext and encicode.



Proposed Ceremony for the Papal Election

William Brahms

NOTE: The name of the current pope, John Paul II, who was baptised Karol Jozef Wojtyla, is used here for the purpose of illustration.

Black colored text is current practice
Red colored text is what I suggest be added to current practice.

Numbers in parentheses refer to endnotes.


When the election has been canonically carried out, the junior
cardinal deacon summons into the hall of the conclave the
secretary of the conclave, the papal master of ceremonies and the
assistant of ceremonies.
The master of ceremonies carries
with both hands a wooden case with a hinged cover or lid on
which appears engraved in gold the heraldic arms of the
Holy See. At this moment the lid is closed to conceal its contents.
Inside is a white neck ribbon attached to a pair of keys, one gold        
and one silver. The cardinal dean, or the cardinal who is first in
order and seniority, in the name of the whole college of electors
then asks the consent of the one who has been elected with the
following words:

"Do you accept your canonical election as Supreme

The pope-elect replies.


Immediately after the declaration of consent,
the cardinal dean asks the pope-elect:

"By what name do you wish to be called?"

The pope-elect replies.

"John Paul"

At this utterance, the master of ceremonies immediately
opens the lid of the case that he is holding. Turning to the            
assembled cardinals, the cardinal dean now addresses them
by exclaiming:

"Who do people say the Son of Man is?"       (3)

In response to this question, the following responses
are given by several members of the College:

"John the Baptist!"
"One of the prophets!"

The cardinal dean turns to the pope-elect and asks:

"But what about you? Who do you say I am?"

The pope-elect kneels before the cardinal dean and

"You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."

The cardinal dean turns to the master of ceremonies
and takes the neck ribbon and keys out of the case being
held by the master of ceremonies. Turning back to the
pope-elect he holds this with both of his hands and says
the following words to the pope-elect:

"Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh
and blood has not revealed this to you, but my
Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are
Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,
and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it."

The cardinal dean places the ribbon around the neck of
the pope-elect. While he does this, he says the              
following words:

"I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven;
whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven,
and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in

The cardinal dean takes three steps backward and
addresses the pope-elect as follows:

"Karol Jozef Wojtyla, having accepted the election            (5)
that was offered to you by Divine Providence
through this Sacred College, henceforth you are to
be called John Paul, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor
to the Prince of the Apostles, and the Servant of the
Servants of God."

"Your Holiness, arise, and receive the acclamation            (6)
of your brother apostles."

The pope-elect stands up. When the cardinals see
that he is fully erect, they break out with a
thunderous ovation.
After this, the pope-elect retires          (7)
to the Room of Tears behind the Sistine to don the
papal vestments. The papal master of ceremonies
acting as notary and with two assistant masters of
ceremonies acting as witnesses draws up a document
concerning the acceptance of the new pontiff and the
name taken by him



  1. "Inside is a white neck ribbon attached to a pair of keys."

    Throughout a pontificate this neck ribbon with its attached keys are kept on display in St. Peter's Basilica and the case is kept on display in the Sistine. The neck ribbon and keys are only placed in this special case immediately upon the death of a pope. Closing the case with the ribbon and keys inside symbolizes the "closing" of the Gloriosamente Regnante and the beginning of the pontifical interregnum called the Sede Vacante. The enclosure of the keys in this case means that no individual is currently vested with the power of the keys, i.e., the papacy. The white color of the ribbon matches the color of the familiar white papal vesture. White and gold are also the predominant colors of the heraldic arms of the Holy See and the flag of the Vatican City State.

  2. "At this utterance, the master of ceremonies immediately opens the lid of the case that he is holding."

    As the closing of the case with the keys inside symbolizes the "closing" of a pontificate and the beginning of the interregnum, the opening of the case at the utterance of the new papal name symbolizes the "opening" of the new pontificate and the succession of the papacy from one pontificate to another.

  3. "Who do people say the Son of Man is?"

    Here is a excellent illustration how symbol and ceremony acts as a bridge between the past and the present, between the visible world and unseen real. As Jesus Christ commissioned Peter to be the Vicar of his Church in the remote past, so is Peter's successor commissioned by Divine Providence to be the Vicar of Christ in the present.

  4. "The cardinal dean places the ribbon around the neck of the pope-elect."

    Symbolic of the fact that at this time the papacy is coming to rest of the shoulders of the pope-elect.

  5. "Karol Jozef Wojtyla, having accepted the election..."

    This is the last time the pope-elect is formally addressed by his baptismal name.

  6. "Your Holiness, arise, and receive the acclamation of your brother apostles."

    This is the first time the pope-elect is addressed with the papal salutation.

  7. "When the cardinals see that he is fully erect, they break out with a thunderous ovation."

    The climax of the conclave ends when the cardinals let loose their pent up emotions in a thunderous expression of collegiality.


TO: Dennis the Menace
FROM: Mountaintop

I was right! What qualifies you is your long resume of black bag jobs and mission impossibles. How ingenious! What a cover! Who else but "The Menace" could have come up with such a bold and clever scheme to tap into Vatican intelligence by bugging a conclave with the symbols of the papacy itself. What style. What panache! I can't wait to see your prototypes and the headline you'll get when you pull off this mission impossible: "WHITE SMOKE SABOTAGED BY DENNIS THE MENACE!" "BALLOTS AND BISHOPS BURNED UP OVER SISTINE SECRETS LEAKED!!" The political cartoonists will go hogwild depicting you as that tow-headed, mischievious imp who crashed a conclave and will go down in history in good company with the greatest spies and saboteurs of the past.

Give my regards to Friar Tuck.


TO: Mountaintop
FROM: Dennis the Menace

I've posted your reply here on the Internet, the world's worst place for secret messages and classified info. Now the whole world knows of my "clever scheme" unless you think that nobody at the Vatican looks at anything but porno when they're on the net. So now what do you believe?

As for the political cartoons, what could possibly be worse than being depicted as the world's first time traveller, one who had good intentions for going back to the Garden of Eden only to find out that he was the Serpent?

-- W.B.

William Brahms
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