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The Smoke of Satan*

Pope Paul VI famous for the "Smoke of Satan" homily

 "The smoke of Satan has entered the Temple of God" quote is probably Pope Paul VI's most (in)famous soundbite. He allegedly said it during a homily at St Peter's basilica and delivered in Italian on 29 June 1972. I remember very well that in the turbulent 1970s, a fiendish spell of "Devil" and "Antichrist" movies starting from the iconic "Exorcist", "the Omen" and to the equally infamous and atrocious "Amityville Horror" became the staple of cinemas. And my sisters were fans of this genre and so I got to see them all! 


Of course a Pope giving a public address with something like "Satan" in it would, to understate it, attract public and media attention (and thus became the inspiration for the "Devil" movies of the 1970s)  So to this day Catholics and non-believers want to find out what the Pope really meant. And so that will include combing all of Paul VI's encyclicals, homilies, letters, bulls and his diary.But Paul VI was not known as "the Hamlet Pope" for nothing (something his predecessor John XXIII foresaw). Since Hamlet was a complex and brooding personality, and so was Paul VI.

The Vatican for very understandable reasons won't comment on the "Satan" quote. No English translation of the homily has ever been officially provided (lest it cause another evil spell of "Devil" and "Antichrist" Hollywood flicks!) So it is up to the faithful, those stuck in purgatory and, the fallen to "read between the lines".

Of course the Pope was not literally referring to Satan lighting a mosquito coil in St Peter's with the smoke driving away the Cardinals! (although as a kid, I imagined it as such!). Some readers think he was referring to the organizational and liturgical chaos right after the Second Vatican Council. Or some think he was referring to the complete chaos among Catholics as a result of the publication of "Humanae Vitae" in 1968 which most Catholics ignored by still using contraceptives.

But another and more relevant reading is that Paul VI foresaw the corruption that would engulf the Church and bankrupt it. And it did in the pontificate of Benedict XVI as the clerical child abuse scandals. In these scandals, bishops and their dioceses protected pederast priests by transferring their assignment somewhere else. In many cases, they ignored the issue or paid "hush" money.

The Church traditionally believes that Satan is the greatest "corruptor" since he corrupts the Word of God and God's goodness. And often the Devil uses cold cash or 30 pieces of silver which can be used to buy devilishly fast 4WDs! And that is exactly what befell the infamous "Pajero Bishops" of the Philippine Church. The moral of the story is the old "The Road to Hell (even when cruising on a Pajero) is paved with good intentions!"

In the Gospels, Jesus was brought by Satan to the high mountain and he offered the Christ dominion of all the kingdoms of the world if He would bow down and worship Satan. But Jesus bluntly retorted "Be off, Satan, Scripture says you shall worship God and  serve Him alone"

And so we have the sordid tale of a hierarch asking for a birthday gift and easily getting one. After all the Devil is a master of corruption, He corrupts Jesus words not by changing the words "Ask and you shall receive" but by changing the meaning!

Satan's smoke has indeed entered the bishop's conference. The Catholic Church's credibility is in tatters and won't be repaired unless the bishops concerned resign. If they know what real penance means, these bishops should wear ashes and sackcloth and walk barefoot to the Canossa of the Filipino taxpayer. Reparation is the first step to authentic justice and healing. Hiding in lawyer's talk of justifying "incidental benefits" won't absolve them of their sins. And please don't add problems to Holy Father Benedict about meting your punishment. The Pope has so much other problems to attend to!


*has entered the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines!

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