“You’ve got to watch out for the souvenir hunters – we caught one mourner trying to sneak out of the Basilica with His Holiness’ mitre stuffed down his trousers,” says Father Emilio Gazungas, the Jesuit priest who oversaw security for Pope John Paul II’s lying in state and funeral. “When the guards challenged him, he claimed it was an erection – a physical manifestation of the spiritual arousal he claimed to have felt when he saw the Holy Father in repose!” To make matters worse, the thief had tried to cover his crime by replacing the mitre with a paper crown from a Christmas cracker. “After hearing his confession, I was inclined to believe that he was a devout catholic who merely wanted a keepsake of the Pope, so we let him off lightly with a couple of Hail Marys and a bloody good beating around the back of the Basilica,” Gazungas confides. “Mind you, he was the exception – most of the so-called Holy pilgrims supposedly paying their respects to the Pontiff would have stripped the rings off of his fingers before you could say ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God, if they’d had the chance! Thieving little bastards! We had to mount a twenty four hour guard!”
According to Gazungas, it wasn’t just the Pope’s belongings which were at risk; he and his men also had to be on alert for attempts to tamper with the Papal cadaver itself. “I remember when Pope Paul VI was lying in state back in 1978, a group of students stole his body and drove around Rome with him in the back seat of their convertible. One of them even made it appear His Holiness was waving to people on the street by tying his right hand to a broom handle – it was like a scene from Weekend At Bernie’s Part 2,” he recalls in horror. “In the four hours before they were caught, they caused mass panic amongst the general population, who thought the Pope had risen like Jesus and was out on the streets blessing them!”
There was also an unfortunate incident on the second day of Pope John Paul I’s lying in state, when a Danish ventriloquist threw his voice to make it appear that His Holiness’ was propositioning female mourners who came close, imploring them to ‘Give us a kiss, sexy’, or ‘Show us your knickers’. Three elderly ladies from Wisconsin wet themselves and a Monsignor from Putney suffered a minor coronary before the Danish miscreant was apprehended. “Of course, these things all happened before my time. I would never allow the Holy Father to suffer such an indignity,” explains Gazungas. “Indeed, my team has already succeeded in averting a far more serious threat to John Paul II’s corpse! We had word from Scotland Yard that some of your fathers’ rights militants were planning a stunt in the Basilica – imagine, some idiot dressed as Jesus handcuffing themselves to Pope John Paul’s body and unfurling a banner saying ‘Holy Fathers 4 Justice’! Luckily for us, they were easily spotted amongst the mourners – they were the only ones dressed as Batman and Robin!”
It isn’t just during the lying in state that a deceased Pope is in danger, the subsequent funeral procession and burial are equally perilous. “The hysterical groupies are always a worry,” admits Gazungas. “We certainly didn’t want a repeat of those shocking scenes at John Paul I’s burial, when four grief-stricken nuns and a Cardinal hurled themselves into the grave after his coffin! It took five Bishops and a gravedigger to prise one of the nuns off of his coffin lid – she was shrieking and wailing her undying love for him all the while! He may have lasted less than a month, but the first John Paul certainly built up quite a following with the ladies!” Gazungas feared that John Paul II’s superstar status could invite even worse disruption from crazed fans and publicity seekers alike.
Indeed, rumours were rife that zany defrocked priest and militant naturist Father Padraig O’Bamsie was planning to disrupt the funeral procession by running naked through the cortege. “I thank the Lord that never came to pass – we were on full alert for naked men clad only in dog-collars on the day,” sighs Gazungas. “Imagine the chaos if the hearse had been forced to brake sharply, sending the Holy coffin flying, the Holy Father’s body tumbling out into the crowd! It just doesn’t bear thinking about!” O’Bamsie, who had already caused a multiple pile up during a 2003 Formula One Grand Prix, when he had run on to the track and mooned at race leader Michael Schumacher, had a long-standing grudge against the Pope, on whose direct orders he had been defrocked in 1999 for conducting nude sermons. Luckily, as it turned out, he was still in prison in the US following his storming of the Presidential motorcade in Denver the previous December. He had nearly been shot by Secret Service Guards as he stood on the bonnet of the Commander in Chief’s limousine, waving his member at George Bush.
Even after the Holy Father is buried, Gazungas’ security operation continues. “A Pope makes many enemies, even after his death they will seek to discredit him in any way,” the Jesuit explains. “That is why as soon as a Pontiff expires, his private apartments are sealed – we must make a thorough search for any compromising material which could be used against him! You wouldn’t believe some of the stuff that’s been found in the past – pictures and films of what I’m told is an erotic nature! Well, even a man as holy as a Pope has certain needs, I suppose!” Gazungas refuses to comment on stories that the last Pope Pius’ wardrobe was found filled with women’s underwear, or that another previous Pontiff owned a vast collection of body building magazines. “To reveal such secrets would destroy the essential dignity of the office,” he says. “In death, the Pontiff is even more vulnerable than in life. Unable to defend himself, he becomes subject to every humiliation and indignity that the pranksters, atheists and progressives out there can think up!”
With Pope John Paul II safely buried and his affairs put in order, Gazungas’ next task will be to ensure the election of his successor runs smoothly. “We’ve had a tip-off that those pranksters who have successfully got themselves into Manchester United team photos and the like are planning to infiltrate the Conclave dressed as Cardinals and try to get David Beckham elected as Pope,” he sighs wearily. “Sometimes I wonder if this madness will ever end!”