Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Islands of Miranda, Part V

This is the fifth part of a short story draft. I, II, III, IV.

Brother Andrew led Diego through a small side door to a small room that had an elevator locked with a key. As he took out the key and turned it in the lock, he said, "I have always felt a sort of cousinship with Miranda; the mercantile orders were approved by Leo Theodore, as well, and at the time it was an even more controversial decision than the founding of Miranda. And yet, like Miranda, here we still are." The elevator opened and he stepped in, with Diego. Brother Andrew pushed the button for the Mezzanine level, and as the elevator began its descent, said, "You have no idea how long the wait for someone like yourself sometimes has seemed." Then he inserted the key again and stopped the elevator between floors.

Diego tensed quickly, not understanding what was happening, wondering what Brother Andrew -- who seemed rather harmless to look at -- would do to him. But all Brother Andrew did was hold out the envelope he was carrying.

"In this envelope, you will find two things. The first is your Certificate of Confirmation. As of now, you are a member of the Board of the Miranda Organization. The second one -- perhaps you should see it for yourself first."

Slowly Diego opened the envelope. On top there was indeed the Certification of Confirmation of Appointment, signed and sealed by Augustine Cardinal Binaisa, President of the Pontifical Commission for the Insular State of Miranda. The second was a document in Latin. Diego had not had any formal study of Latin since high school, but in his lifetime he had had to sign more than a few Mirandan contracts, which often have both Spanish and Latin versions, both of which are legally binding, and the document was a crisp and straightforward legal Latin. He found he could follow much of it, and as he did, he frowned. He skimmed through the first page, and then the second, and then the third and last page and stared at the signature and seal at the end. Finally he looked at Brother Andrew.

"Is this authentic?"

"It is indeed. One of the things Papa Leo Teodoro did after the papal approval of the Antoninites was to put in our charge a number of time vaults. Most of them opened a long time ago -- items of historical interest, mostly, but occasionally legal arrangements or legal documents giving various institutions access to trusts he had squirreled away. One of them, however, was misplaced in inventory -- it was in storage, but misfiled, and was thought lost until we stumbled upon it again some years ago. It had a great many legal documents -- mostly backup copies, but it also had this, with a note saying, 'In case of an invasion of the Islands by the Venezuelan government.' And this was in triplicate." He said the latter in a tone indicating that he approved of this clerical propriety.


"Entirely true. The note is still in the Antoninites safe and was authenticated as being in Papa Leo Teodoro's own hand. How he foresaw it, I don't know, but that he did is beyond doubt."

Diego contemplated the document for a moment. "This cannot be binding, can it?"

"That is the thing of it. Miranda operates on the principle of self-governance within the framework provided by the Holy See. Constitutional changes require the joint approval of the Holy Father and the Council of Self-Governance. He signed this constitutional document, but it was not sent to the Council. Strictly speaking, Leo Theodore also has no authority to bind his successor, but the current Holy Father is always hesitant to put himself into direct conflict with his predecessors. He would never propose anything like this, and would oppose it if the Cardinal ever proposed such a thing, but under the circumstances, he would very likely uphold it if the Council accepted it and approved it.

"Thus the question becomes, 'Would the Council accept it and approve it?' Nothing would prevent them from ignoring it; the Council is the primary authority for the legitimacy of legal documents in Mirandan matters. They could simply rule that the Fundamental Law's requirement of papal approval is a requirement for approval by a pope living at the time of the Council's own approval. The Holy See would certainly support them in this. Then the document would be no more than a historical curiosity. But suppose they went the other way, and held that the papal approval holds as long as it is not later rescinded, and then approved the document. It would be fully legal, enacted by the appropriate authorities, and the moment the Council gave their official approval, it would become the new Fundamental Law of Miranda -- and all authority over the Miranda Organization would pass from the Board of the Organization to the direct control of the Council itself, with the Marshal of Los Roques as the primary executive officer. The Board might protest, but they have no authority except under the current Fundamental Law, which already indicates that they are purely instrumental to the Council. Human law is an artifact, Mr. Páez; it has the nature the artisans of law put into it. Do you think that the Council would accept it as legitimate?"

"They might," said Diego slowly. "Anyone else proposing such a sweeping constitutional change would probably be resisted, even if he were the Pope himself -- but if it could be proven to come directly from the hand of Pope Leo Theodore, that is a very different thing. To Mirandans, he is not just a Pope, he was the Pope, and his name, even from the grave, still has power. I don't know that they would accept it. But they might."

"'Might' is not good enough for us. I will be quite frank with you in saying that the current Holy Father would not be at all pleased at Cardinal Binaisa's action in giving this to you. The Mirandan Support may be a symbolic token of allegiance in Mirandan terms, but it constitutes fully a third of the yearly revenues of the Holy See, and all of that is in the hands of the Board, which in principle operates by authority of the Council. The Board is required to provide the Support according to a formula approved by the Council; the Council can't deny the Holy See the Support, but it can make it arbitrarily small, to devastating effect. It would be a financial crisis not seen in centuries."

"And nothing could compensate for it? Not the mercantile orders?"

"No," said Brother Andrew, with some severity. "The mercantile orders exist to support the works of mercy, making them more sustainable and increasing their scope. We would have to divert funds from hospitals, schools, parishes in distress, all to keep afloat institutions whose reason for existence is to further those hospitals, schools, and parishes. Nor can the gap be budgeted around; we have run the numbers many times, and no matter what assumptions we introduce into the models, the result is always the same. Church expenses only increase over time; everyone always demands more while expecting more to be free, simply because it is the Church. The Holy See is in a position in which it cannot endanger the Support. Any disturbance to the status quo distresses the Holy Father. By giving this to you, the Cardinal is deliberately creating a situation in which his hand may be forced. But failure comes with a cost. And that is where you come in."

"What do you mean?"

"Cardinal Binaisa -- and not just him -- has been increasingly worried about the self-assertion of the Board at the expense of both the Council and the Pontifical Commission. But we do not have the inside information we need in order to determine when and under what circumstances to give it to the Council. Doing it incorrectly could create an immense set of problems. So we need someone who might be able to determine that. But in point of the fact, it probably requires a member of the Board itself. The Cardinal has interviewed every candidate for the Board in order to find one who could be trusted to put Mirandan interest over his or her own. He is gambling on you. You will be in a position to decide whether it should be done now, or, if not, find the right time later. Or it may be that we are already too late, and there will never be a time for it. That is a possibility as well -- but to determine whether it is true requires the same kind of inside information. And so we put the fate of Miranda into your hands, Mr. Páez."

"And what if I make a mistake and cause this financial disaster for the Church?"

"Well," said Brother Andrew philosophically, turning the key and starting the elevator again, "perhaps it will be reminder that while men work by bureaucracies, God does not. The instruments of the Church rise and fall, and are ever-changing, but the Church goes on and on."

The elevator stopped at the Mezzanine level and Diego got off. Brother Andrew said, "I second the Cardinal's recommendation that you see the man himself before you leave. A remarkable man, Papa Leo Teodoro, to have had a plan for countering the corruption of the Board. It makes me wonder, really, what his plan for countering any corruption of the mercantile orders might have been." The elevator doors closed, and Diego went to find Pacelli.

On their way back to the hotel, they took the long way around and walked to the Pontifical Church of San Tommasso de Villanova, just outside Castel Gandolfo City State, to see the burial place of Leo Theodore; it took some time because it was all uphill. The church itself was relatively plain and clean-lined and white, with an unassuming dome and rather antique-looking lampposts out front; but inside it was splendid, with intricate carved detail from the hand of Bernini. The monument for Leo Theodore, much newer although in a Neo-Baroque style, was off to the side, a raised platform on which rested a lion and a lamb.

Diego had seen pictures of the monument all his life, but the monument was far more detailed than pictures ever showed. On the base there was a plaque that read:

Nemo est qui reliquerit domum,
aut fratres, aut sorores, aut patrem,
aut matrem, aut filios, aut agros
propter me et propter Evangelium,
qui non accipiat centies tantum,
nunc in tempore hoc:
domos, et fratres, et sorores,
et matres, et filios, et agros,
cum persecutionibus,
et in sæculo futuro vitam æternam.

It was framed by four little ovals with pictures Diego supposed were allegorical, labeled Opibus Firma, Copiis Locuples, Gloria Amplia, and Virtute Honesta, respectively; Diego had no idea what the point of them was, or if there was some allusion he was supposed to be getting from them.

From the pictures, Diego had always supposed that the lion, by whose side the lamb was curled up, asleep, was also sleeping; but seen in person it was clear that the lion, while resting its head on its paw, had its eyes open, vigilant, keeping guard.

From San Tommasso, they walked in leisurely fashion back to their hotel, drinking in the restful sight of Lake Albano. Diego was thoughtful through the entire walk.

to be continued

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