I have dreaded the death of Pope John Paul II for a long time, and now that it's finally come to pass, I'm really afraid. My anxiety stems from this: When the College of Cardinals goes about choosing the next pope, something will become very obvious to George Bush - the pope is not really a democratically elected leader. Not of his country, that sovereign nation known as the Vatican, nor of his Church.
Sure, the pope is selected by the College of Cardinals, but all of them are unelected lifetime appointees of the previous pope. The Catholic laity itself, reportedly numbering 1 billion people, will have no say in it whatsoever. That's why I'm worried.
What if, in his zeal to establish democratic regimes in the area, Bush sends the American military in to free the Vatican? Might it not quickly turn into another Iraq?
Just thinking about the run-up to such a campaign and the likely outpourings of the American propaganda machine is chilling. I can see Bush doing his "they hate our freedoms" routine as he proposes a quick surgical strike. "The pope," he will say is "always pontificating. Like Korean leader Kim Jong-il, he claims to be infallible."
And imagine the deck of cards with the faces of the 52 most-wanted cardinals, one of whom, it will be asserted, is a known enabler of pederasts, a man who presided over the sexual abuse and rape of numerous children.
"They worship an instrument of torture and capital punishment. It's even said they practise ritual cannibalism."
And God knows what they'll say when they sink their bloody teeth into the issue of the feminine. "Vatican women are grievously oppressed. They have no right to vote. They are forced to wear weird burqa-like apparel and are bound in polygamy to a dead man - a messianic leader," they will add, "who was himself never elected."
Don't get me wrong. Like so many of you, I, too, long for the liberation of the Vatican people, but at what cost? Are we ready to countenance a sky full of exploding nuns and vicars? Must we quietly witness the instant immolation of prelates and priests that will surely ensue? And what about the treasures of the Vatican? Will the Sistine Chapel be looted, as was Baghdad's museum? Will the Pietà survive the infallibility of American cruise missiles?
Afterwards, of course, the ends will be used to justify the means. Look, women are giving sermons from every pulpit now, whether they like it or not. All new commandments are being ratified by popular vote. There is a mood of hopefulness.
"Sure, it's been agonizing," Bush will say with that creepy, jerky laugh of his. "Sure, it's been murder. Why do you think they call it universal suffrage? Heh-heh-heh ."