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  • John Thavis

A "Hall of Humility" in the Vatican?

As the cardinals walk toward the Sistine Chapel to vote for a new pope, they pass through the Sala Regia, literally the “royal room” where popes once received emperors, kings and princes.

The room is one of the most ornate in the Vatican, and its art works illustrate the church’s temporal influence through the centuries. If the cardinals glance at the frescoes, they have to be thinking: How times have changed.

The paintings celebrate the pope as a worldly power. Kings are depicted presenting territories to ruling pontiffs, while the “Donation of Charlemagne” commemorates the medieval gift that launched the papal states.

Today, of course, the pope’s territorial holdings have shrunk to the 110-acre Vatican city state. His worldly power is limited to moral pronouncements that may, or may not, be taken to heart.

And now we have a pope who has willingly set aside the office of the papacy – a gesture reflecting the human limitations on a pope, and the need to adapt this age-old institution to the demands of the modern world.

I wonder if we’ll ever see a Vatican hallway decorated with less-than-triumphal scenes from the modern papacy. A pope who resigns. A pope who meets with sex abuse victims. A pope who apologizes to groups the church may have offended in the past.

They could call it the “Hall of Humility.” It could be a project for the next pope.

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