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Heathens in the Attic

By Steve Ramos · December 24th, 2003 · Arts Beat
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Midway into The Godfather, Part III, the final film in director Francis Coppola's epic series about the Corleone mob family, a sly, unintentionally comic scene helps explain my amusement with Saint Peter and the Vatican: The Legacy of the Popes, a touring exhibition of 300-plus artworks and historical objects from the Vatican and its famous museums on display through April at the Cincinnati Museum Center.

Exhibition audiences are ogling ink drawings by Michelangelo, the ancient fresco of San Siricio, the elaborate reproduction of the Tomb of Saint Peter and numerous Vatican artifacts. A greeting from Pope John Paul II awaits visitors at the beginning of the exhibition, and a sculpture of his outstretched hands bids farewell at the exit. Nearby is a large gift shop stocked with books, posters and countless knick-knacks plastered with the Pope's image.

The content of the exhibition is matter-of-fact: valuable artifacts from the Vatican, medieval artworks and behind-the-scenes items used by the Roman Catholic Church. Visitors are left to discover on their own the spirit and the true origins behind the aching-to-be-blockbuster tour.

In Coppola's movie-made world, mob kingpin Michael Corleone (Al Pacino) travels to the Vatican to propose a business deal. Corleone wants to transfer his family wealth, blood-soaked money from years of mob dealings, into the Vatican bank in a last-ditch effort for family legitimacy.

The chain-smoking cardinal who meets with Corleone professes shock at his proposal.

"The Vatican in business with the Corleones!" he says in disgust, between long puffs on his cigarette. "What will people say?"

Everything changes when the cardinal realizes the huge amount of money Corleone is proposing to deposit into the church vaults, a good portion meant as a bribe.

In the real world of Enron accounting scandals and Bush Administration cronyism, it's not difficult to imagine a Coppola-like scene between Clear Channel executives and church leaders negotiating the rights for the U.S. media conglomerate to manage the Saint Peter and the Vatican touring exhibition of valuable artworks and historical artifacts from Vatican collections.

"The Vatican in business with Clear Channel!" the Cardinal in charge of Pope John Paul II's attic says in disgust, tugging at the nicotine patch peeling from his wrist. "What will people think?"

Clear Channel -- the conglomerate of radio and TV stations, concert promotions, outdoor advertising and exhibition management -- is as ruthless and cutthroat as a corporation can be. The company that tried to destroy the career of the fun-loving Country-Western musical trio The Dixie Chicks over their public criticisms of President Bush and the invasion of Iraq shows few signs of Mother Teresa-like goodness.

Clear Channel is a fat-cat moneymaker that seems to favor William Randolph Hearst-inspired politicking and John D. Rockefeller-esque monopolizing. They're bad money -- and they have banks of bad money.

In the words of Michael Corleone, a potential candidate for patron saint of strong-arm dealings, it's easy to imagine Clear Channel leaders making the Vatican an offer they couldn't refuse. Imagine: Saint Peter and the Vatican pays the church a tempting fee to open the Vatican's attics and tour the usually boxed-up objects as a blockbuster, money-making, crowd-pleasing show.

It's a win-win deal. Clear Channel -- the biggest, baddest wolf of American media companies -- enhances its image by partnering with the Roman Catholic Church.

On the other side, the church is reeling from the continuing controversy over pedophile priests and reluctance by church leaders to address the issue honestly and publicly. A parade of valuable artifacts and artworks might divert the emotions of people outraged by such intransigence.

At one time, Clear Channel and the Roman Catholic Church would have seemed incompatible business partners. With Saint Peter and the Vatican beginning its Cincinnati run, they appear well-matched.

Both have heathens in their attics, brought to light by a tour of works cleaned out of the Vatican's storage bins.

 
 
 
 

 

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