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Sic, in surprise move, extracts splendid new hat from the Vat

Better sit down ’cause Sic -- how can we say this with modesty? -- not since the day we realized we were infallible (1995, if we’re not mistaken) have we been so, well, words fail us.

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It all started when Sic mentioned in a recent column that if any reader were in touch with the Vatican, and if the subject came up, “Sic would not look askance at a red hat.”

We’re not the first not to look askance at a red hat and get nowhere, so we went on with the task, not always an easy one, of being ourself. Imagine, then, our surprise when a sizable box arrived with -- did you really guess it? -- the father and mother of a red hat (you may now take a moment to look at the hat in the picture; try to imagine it’s red).

It’s an impeccable hat, the reddest hat you ever did see, with a chin band and everything. Our first thought was, they don’t make them like that anymore, and we briefly longed for the good old days. Then we went running through the streets shouting, “We’re a cardinal! We’re a cardinal!” until the police arrested us.

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In an unrelated scenario, if the sister of St. Francis had been named Cissy instead of Clare, she would now be St. Cissy of Assisi. Not that it matters.

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Cyberspace, apart from its primary purpose of making Bill Gates richer than all other humans combined, serves on the side to give and get goofy interoffice stuff such as these “squawks” or complaints by U.S. Air Force pilots, and the maintenance crews’ replies:

Squawk: “Left inside main tire almost needs replacement.”

Reply: “Almost replaced left inside main tire.”

Squawk: “Test flight OK, except autoland very rough.”

Reply: “Autoland not installed on this aircraft.”

Squawk #1: “#2 propeller seeping prop fluid.”

Reply #1: “#2 propeller seepage normal.”

Squawk #2: “#1, #3 and #4 propellers lack normal seepage.”

Squawk: “Something loose in cockpit.”

Reply: “Something tightened in cockpit.”

Squawk: “Evidence of hydraulic leak on right main landing gear.”

Replay: “Evidence removed.”

Squawk: “Number three engine missing.”

Reply: “Engine found on right wing after brief search.”

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The red hat came with a letter from none other than +Cardinal Johannes Profundus Nemo (with that little telltale plus before his name), who couldn’t have been more tactful. “Please pardon the temerity of this salutation, since you and I have never met,” Nemo began. Sure, Sic is infallible and all, but this guy’s a cardinal and walking in the footsteps of sundry apostles, and he’s worried about temerity. It was breathtaking. Better still, Nemo was, he said, a Sic fan. “Accordingly, we (at the Vatican) are pleased to send you the enclosed Galero, in the hope that you will guard and treasure it as a token of our respect for your admirable apostolate of the press.”

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Since the Vatican is a teaching institution, Nemo couldn’t resist turning the hat into a teaching moment: “Since Vat II, we (at the Vat) tend to see cardinalatial Galeros in the same category as priestly birettas (i.e., passé).” Passé! Over our dead body, we fulminated.

Nemo went on: “We (ATV) trust that you are well aware of the rubrics regarding the use, or nonuse, of the cardinalatial Galero. Historically it has been worn by its recipients only once -- at the moment it is conferred. Thereafter, it will be seen, in public, only hanging suspended from the ceiling, above the main altar, in the recipient’s titular church, after the death of its recipient.” That is, over our dead body.

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Also unrelated: Anonymous sent us an official invitation to: “Evening Prayer & Blessing of the Pontifical Regalia, Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, Metuchen, New Jersey.” Do the lads (at the Vat) know about this, and why didn’t the pontifical regalia go where the biretta went? We need a council. Vat III is so long overdue, they should hold Vat III and Vat IV simultaneously to move things along.

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Meanwhile, Flori Ignoffo writes from Columbia: “Dear Sic. Please tell you-know-who (on page 2) I need a weekly fix of Sic. This world needs more laugh therapy.”

We love the concept, but you-know-who is not in a merry mood -- feels vulnerable since we came strutting with that snappy chapeau. And did you read the stuff on page 2 about his bad back? He could have gotten years off in Purgatory had he suffered in silence like everyone else, if you ask Sic.

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But Nemo wasn’t yet finished: “In truth it is one of our most pleasant duties here (ATV) to read your publication regularly and assiduously. In fact we often receive multiple copies of a given issue, highlighted and underlined by your admiring readers. ‘Admiring’ in the Latin sense of admiratio. (It is a little known fact that admiratio really means Cardinal Ratzinger is watching you.)

But what’s this? Nemo goes on: “In keeping with our tradition of discretion here (ATV), we deem it wise to counsel you that your selection as one worthy of this honor remains as we say here (at the Vat) ‘in petto.’ Knowing your discretion and prudence, we (ATV) are confident that you will honor this long-standing code by avoiding any publicity, not to mention ‘media hype,’ about this award.”

“In petto,” as everyone knows, means “up your sleeve.” So now we’re up Nemo’s sleeve. This raises the question: Who is Nemo? Sic’s investigations took us down the darkest corridors and (dare we say it?) Byzantine bureaucracies of the Vatican, where sources spoke in awe of Nemo’s scholarship, virtue and flair for haberdashery.

It was Nemo, the sources told us, who uttered the famous phrase, “Nemo dat quod non habet,” which roughly means, if you get dat hat from Nemo, you should smell a rat. We knew then we were at the heart of a great mystery. What if this unheralded Nemo were papabile? You can count on Sic to get to the bottom of this.

National Catholic Reporter, October 31, 1997