"So it's somehow cool to excommunicate the mafioso but not the priests who molested children?" I'm in the middle of a conversation with the smart teenager, whose argumentative skills are being daily honed by a stint as an intern in a lawyer's office.
"Well, hey, I mean . . . for a pope."
Yeah. There's the rub. He's a pretty good guy, Francis. For a pope. Which is not saying much, but the astonishing thing is that those mafia dudes really do seem to care about being excommunicated. Is this a my-dick's-bigger-than-yours thing or a help-Mommy-I-don't-want-to-end-up-in-the-tenth-circle-of-Dante's-inferno thing? And yeah, if the Ultimate Dad excommunicates them, they'll be stuck asking Mommy for help. And all she's ever been allowed to do in the Mafia world up to now is bake ziti, eat popcorn in front of the TV with the priest, and screw open fake cans of Campbell's soup to get Tony's cash. Okay, she gets to do more in Prizzi's Honor, but she almost never runs the show.
Now it really would make some kind of statement if the mafia returned to the matriarchy, at least in religious matters. I am already imagining something like the struggle between Henry VIII and Pope Leo X, with whom Henry was on fine terms while he was writing his Latin treatise on the Defense of the Seven Sacraments, which earned him the title of Defender of the Faith. But then, as we all know, Henry wanted to dump his wife and marry somebody else, and when the pope said he'd had enough of annulments, Henry said "I'll go make my own church, so there!" and Pope Paul III said, "and I'll excommunicate you, so there!" At which point the goddess wrung her hands, put Henry in the tenth circle on earth, what with the wives, the decapitations, the indigestion, the x-linked genetic disorder or the syphilis, not to mention the obesity and leg ulcers. No happy camper, this. Pope Paul didn't do so hot himself, what with the assassination of his son and all.
Now, why do these mafia dudes care about being excommunicated? I always thought they lived to break the rules. Lacking expertise in matters mafia, I turn to frequent displays of superstition on The Sopranos, which was said to be so true to life that crime rates in New Jersey plummeted on nights when the show was aired, since the mob was home, glued to the set. I recall a Sicilian mafiosa carefully collecting her cut fingernails, so that nobody could perform, what, witchcraft with them? And I recall Chris, who is eventually murdered by Tony, being spooked by a raven landing on an open windowsill during his ceremony of becoming a made man. Which has some bizarre elements of a twisted Catholicism--they're burning pictures of Saint Peter while he's swearing he'd like to go to hell if he ever betrays his buddies.
Ah. That's where the priest part comes in. It's convenient to be able to go to a priest, and confess everything, like maybe even "uh, I did just get wired by the FBI but I don't really want to do it and all. I'll say a zillion Hail Marys to feel better about this one."
Now, why doesn't the pope bother to excommunicate me? Because I'm nobody, and by the way did a pro forma conversion to Catholicism a few years ago. Not because I believe in any deity of any kind, even though from time to time I make half-hearted attempts at prayer, usually when I'm desperate. Because I love my husband, and we were at the time considering a move to Bavaria, back when the pope was German and very involved in the running of the university where I would have been applying for a job. There I was, unbaptized, and of Protestant descent. It wasn't looking good. So I did what the Jews did to get through the Middle Ages. I got baptized into the Catholic faith, after a conversation with an open-minded priest who wanted to find some "common ground" between his belief and my atheism and was willing to settle for my occasional Wordsworthian sense of feeling at one with the universe while swimming. More like it while having an orgasm but I knew that part would embarrass the guy, so I didn't mention it, and he did baptize me, and is there some cosmic significance in the fact that all this occurred on Al Capone's birthday?
Maybe, just maybe, there is. Meanwhile, stay tuned to find out whether Tony rises from the black screen to phone Dr. Melfi again, panic attack resurging at the thought of . . . not being able to go to confession and get it all taken care of.