February 28, 2013
(Luca Bruno - AP) Enjoy being fallible again!
Enjoy being fallible again! (Luca Bruno/Associated Press)

Well, the pope is out. Pope Benedict XVI has retired, and St. Peter’s chair is vacant. The cardinals can play — or, if they would prefer sit — in the Sistine Chapel for hours, letting off tinted smoke. You can release all the pope jokes you had been holding back, lest you offended someone.

It’s time to do all those things we always wanted to do, while we wait for his successor. (Is this how the interims between popes work? I am not actually sure. Does the whole world, including Episcopalians like myself, get a holiday from sin? If we don’t, I had better cancel these Vegas plans and buy a lot of indulgences, quickly.)

I am assuming that all the chaos, mayhem, panic and disorder that have ensued in the world are due to the current absence of a pope. Dennis Rodman is rampaging through North Korea, fraternizing with Kim Jong Eun! A hideous reverse miracle happened in Europe, where IKEA’s meatballs were suddenly transformed into horse byproducts! And Congress just went on recess two days before the sequester is unleashed from its underground lair and sent out to devour everyone’s firstborn. Things like this make me wonder if the apocalypse is not coming after all but is, in fact, already here, happening a little every day.

I know the cardinals have not yet entered their pope-choosing conclave in the Sistine Chapel, but if anyone is in the market for a new name for a pope, I suggest “Sinbad.” It sounds vaguely hip, provides a two-word answer to a basic theological question, and it’s only a decade or two behind the times, not centuries, as usual.

But in the meantime, there’s a period of popelessness, and I’m not sure what to do. Is there a special? The Former Pope was certainly of age to appreciate the value of a good special. All the mortal sins are venial, for a limited time only? Is there some sort of sin hall pass? And if this is true, do you have any goats I can covet? (Also, aren’t hall passes, in general, just cases of setting yourself up for failure and yelling when you get back?)

I understand, theologically speaking, that the pope is not infallible all the time, only when issuing certain types of pronouncements, so really he is not going from being infallible to being fallible; he is going from occasionally infallible to fallible all the time, in a process similar to what the Hip Young News Media tried to foist on Bob Woodward this week.

But who can say? The chair is empty.

The last time I saw a vacant chair, it was addressing the Republican National Convention. It only gets better from there.

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.