When you have been granted an audience with the pope at the Vatican, you are given a time for arrival, which is more than an hour before the meeting will take place.
Footmen in centuries-old uniforms escort you to a waiting room where you sit for 15 minutes.
Then another uniformed (costumed?) host leads you into a second waiting room for another wait.
And so it goes through a third, a fourth and a fifth room, each looking exactly like what it is, an anteroom in a medieval palace.
The whole impact of this pageantry reinforces the mystique and power of the papacy. You understand you are not just meeting with a powerful church leader, but with the supreme caretaker of an immensely powerful and ancient institution.
And this was my impression on my visit with Pope John Paul II in November 1987 for the signing of a revised agreement between the United Bible Societies and the Roman Catholic Church on principles to follow in interconfessional Bible translation, that is, translations prepared by Roman Catholics, Protestants and other church groups and denominations working together. As coordinator of our global translation program, I had been heavily involved in negotiating the document.
The power of the papacy is a major part of the problems facing the Roman Catholic Church today, problems which Pope Benedict XVI finds himself incapable of managing anymore. The more powerful and wealthy an institution, the more power struggles emerge, the more factions develop, and the more corruption creeps in, and, in recent times, takes over.