I’m not actually supposed to be writing this.
More than two years ago I signed all sorts of documents demanding strict adherence to the embargo date of the information. But since the embargo date has come and gone, and there has been no public announcement – and especially since the recent news story of the entire Vatican science team being killed in a bus crash in Argentina – I don’t feel bound by those agreements.
I suppose there might be some danger in this for me, either legally or via some darker threat – frankly, the bus crash worries me – but maybe that’s all the more reason I should write and post it here. If this post vanishes, or even if I vanish … well, hopefully someone will look into it. But it’s time people knew.
In February of 2011, I received an email inviting me to a private audience with an unnamed official at the Vatican. It was so out of the blue that at first I thought it was something like one of those Nigerian scams. But when the plane tickets arrived with a confirmation letter – on gold-embossed Vatican stationary! – I had to accept it was a real invitation.
Naturally I assumed the interview, if that’s what it was, would relate in some fashion to the uproar over priestly child molesting which had been recently so much in the news. I assumed that my position as a known atheist was in some way related. If there was to be an announcement of radical new policy bearing on the controversy, perhaps the announcement would be given some measure of weight if it was first reported by a neutral, or even hostile, reporter such as myself. Plus, I figured I’d be one of dozens, and that the media pool would include a number of more-friendly reporters in other media.
The subject at hand was something quite different, however, and I was the only writer there. To this day, I honestly have no idea why I was picked. Maybe it was simply a way to judge the reaction of the skeptical public before holding a more formal press conference.
I was ushered into an interview room at half past five on a Thursday, a few weeks before Easter. Literally ushered, I mean – there was an actual young man in uniform, carrying a flashlight and wearing white gloves, which I thought peculiar. But even I was awed by the overall experience – hey, I was in The Vatican! – and found it difficult to question the details.
Plus, my head was still whirling from the surreal fact of first being whisked through the Pope’s private apartments, where His Holiness was just getting out of the bath. I’d been allowed to kiss His ring while a crowd of blond altarboys held discrete towels to protect His Holiness’s dripping private bits from view as he stepped out of a sunken tub of hand-carved Italian marble.
Save for being naked – I politely averted my eyes – and being briskly rubbed by young men with plush, gold-embroidered towels, His Holiness was exactly as I pictured him: A wrinkled, saggy-assed elderly man with – in addition to the dark, almost black circles around his deep-sunken eyes – an air of almost madly sinister gravitas.
My interview, as the Pope weightily informed me while sniffing a bouquet of roses held up for his approval by an obsequious imp in a crimson toga, would be with Vatican metabiologist J. Noble Random. The flick of a gold-ringed pinky dismissed me, and I was swept out by my guide.
I almost laughed out loud when I was shown into the office of Random, who appeared to be waiting for me. In addition to being very British, as I could tell from his first words, Random was a dead ringer for John Cleese in his early Monty Python days, and I instantly thought … well, that that’s who he actually was, and that this whole thing was some sort of staged joke.
Recovering quickly, though – I could conceive of no possible way in which Cleese or any other Python could gain access to the inner recesses of the Vatican, especially not after The Life of Brian – I simply smiled as I shook Random’s hand.
Even so, I suffered throughout the interview with what could only be called cognitive dissonance. So much so that I was unable to think of good questions, and fell back on simply recording what Random said:
“I know you’re simply bubbling over with questions, but I’ll just tell you what I’ve been asked to tell you, and we can get to the questions later.
“As I’m sure you’re aware, the Vatican maintains a small but highly qualified staff of researchers. Most of the work is philological in nature, engaged in translations of ancient documents such as the Dead Sea scrolls and things of that order, but there also is a team of researchers engaged in more weighty scientific matters – biologists, physicists, and most especially archeologists and even paleontologists.
“I, as you have no doubt guessed, am one of that team.”
He paused, staring for a moment at the lavishly decorated ceiling of his office in apparent preoccupation, then seemed to come back to himself.
“Well! To the matter at hand: This most recent project basically grew out of the realization that human fecal material contains countless cells shed in the normal metabolic process.”
That was so out of left field, I was dumbfounded by it, and it was only by listening to my recording later that I was able to catch what he said next.
“Average people like you and I shed these human cells in our daily ablutions and simply flush them away, with no thought to the significance. But some of us here at the Vatican Metabiology Lab realized that this simple fact held great significance when the individual in question was in fact our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
“We immediately understood that obtaining a sample of Our Savior’s Holy Excrement from his years of wandering would be next to impossible. But one of my research team – it was I, if you must know – floated the idea that Our Lord spent his childhood in only a few places.
“There must exist, within those ancient communities where the Baby Jesus lived, 2000-year-old kitchen middens and rubbish dumps. Any modern mother will tell you that babies are virtual gushing fountains of near-liquid fecal matter” – here he waggled his eyebrows unconsciously but comically, which unfortunately reinforced the John Cleese impression – “producing anywhere from four to a dozen soiled diapers a day. The simple fact of it is that Mary, the mother of Jesus Our Savior, must have disposed of her firstborn’s cast-off diapers in some fashion.
“Of course, this is based on the assumption, by no means automatic, that Jesus had a normal human metabolism and ate and excreted as you and I do. Pemberton, an unfortunately youthful member of the team, gave a great impassioned speech providing numerous citations from the Man of Steel Canon, in which Superman receives his powers, and presumably a certain amount of nourishment, from exposure to Earth’s yellow sun. The good man insisted that Superman eats, if he does, only as a courtesy to friends and coworkers, and perhaps as a theatrical prop to his Clark Kent identity. Likewise, Jesus the Son of God may not have needed to eat.
“However, at some point you have to simply accept – on faith, as it were, ha-ha! – that Jesus the man, being born of an earthly mother, had some human traits in addition to his godly ones, at least in his early life.
“Although some members of my team thought it possible that these diapers may have floated up to Heaven, possibly surrounded by a glowing aura of holiness, some of us reasoned that the most likely scenario was that Mary simply tossed them in the garbage with the chicken bones and whatever passed for pizza boxes of that time.
“Fortunately funds were available to do the actual research. An American billionaire had recently donated $30 million to mount yet another expedition to Mount Ararat to look for Noah’s Ark, but we were able to divert the funds into this project.
“And a good thing too! The rich bastard was initially incensed over the diversion of his donation. But I ask you! Does a mere layman know the best use of donated funds? No! We are the Vatican, after all. We sent the local Bishop over to explain that the preliminary expedition to Ararat was turned back by a burning wall of fire, probably because the money was tainted by the sin of the donor. That shut him up right quick, you can imagine!
“Anyway, using Biblical citations and records surviving from the time, we undertook excavations in a half dozen sites, mining the kitchen middens and stable dumps of area villages and towns.
“We ended with something like 70 tons of raw material, which we shipped, for security purposes, in a number of individual boxes, each weighing less than a pound, to the Vatican. It was expensive as hell, of course, but as the Vatican owns a substantial interest in the shipping company, the whole thing balanced out fairly well.
“Using a sophisticated extraction technique involving the Vatican ultracentrifuge – it’s quite proprietary, old chap, no need to even ask! – we extracted progressive samples of a substance which our official records refer to as Extract 390, but which I and certain members of my team waggishly call Jeezium.” He looked alarmed for a moment and added quickly, “You won’t tell His Holiness I said that, I hope.”
“However! No doubt you’re eager to see it, eh?”
Stepping over to a wall safe hidden behind a Caravaggio painting depicting the Sacrifice of Isaac, he keyed the combination and the safe door swung silently open. Inside was a single item resting on a black velvet box, a faceted glass sphere something like the one that Harry Osborne gave to Doctor Octopus in the second Spider-Man movie, the one with the deuterium sample needed to power Doc Ock’s disastrous fusion generator.
He pulled the sphere out reverently. “And here it is! Imagine! Almost 60 grams of pure Jeezium!”
I stepped closer to observe it. Floating within the sphere was a blob of what looked like something you’d see in a Lava Lamp, or possibly the Red Matter from the Star Trek reboot featuring the two Spocks. It was a liquid-appearing mass, less than an inch in diameter, and it gave off a gentle glow of pearly pinkish light.
“Eh? Eh? It’s something, eh? Fair takes your breath away, doesn’t it? The actual immortal and Holy living cells of the Baby Jesus!
“And look at this!” he exclaimed excitedly, pointing at the back of his thumb. “See this spot, here? I had a huge wart there, not two days ago. Had it since I was a child growing up in Brighton. It simply fell off yesterday, leaving only this reddish spot! Amazing, eh? And this! I slammed this finger in a drawer while I was at seminary as a young man, hastily hiding away a copy of Sorority Vixens 2 when the dorm counselor came through, and the nail hasn’t grown right since. But look! Today it’s perfect!
“Even without the actual conscious presence of Our Lord and Savior, his full healing powers are still present in this Holy tissue!
“Think of what could be done with this in hospitals all over the world! It could revolutionize medicine, jerking it out of the hands of doctors and scientists and placing it …” – here he sighed blissfully – “back into the prayerful domain of the Church, where it rightly belongs!”
“Why,” and here he leaned over and fixed me with a piercing look, “it might even be the answer we’ve sought to the amputee-healing controversy you unbelievers blather on about.”
He leaned back in his chair and gazed at the glowing sample cradled in his hands in deep reverie. “The nights I’ve lain awake pondering the question! And now at last, we may be able to silence that glib insistence that mere severed limbs disprove the Kingdom of God! Ah, well. Ah, well …”
That was basically the end of the interview, as Random trailed off into blank silence. A moment later a security guard herded me from the room, and I was escorted to the main entrance. The whole thing was a bit surreal, and it was only later as I was transcribing my notes on the flight home that I really believed it had all happened.
I never heard from the Vatican again, either about the interview, the embargo, or the supposed announcement. And after the bus crash that killed Random and other members of his team, I don’t dare attempt to contact anyone.
However, I do notice the recently-retired Pope looking fairly youthful of late. The dark circles around his eyes are almost gone, and his normally cadaverous yellow skin is looking unexpectedly pink.
I have to wonder …