I turned off the ignition key - the purring motor of my ’58 Buick Century died without a whimper. 00120 Via del Pellegrino: yeah, the field hospital in Rome, this was the place. Not the best part of town, from the looks of it: tents and hovels all over the place. Nagging doubts hung over me like a cumulonimbus cloud in late July: was I doing the right thing? Could this guy really cure my cirrhosis? Was he just another AMA pill-pusher? I decided to give it a shot.
I walked into the large tent in front. A scrawled wooden sign hung over the entrance: “Dr. Bergoglio’s Holistic Health and Wellness Center." Underneath that, another one: “I’m OK, You’re OK - So Who am I to Judge?" The musty smell of sheep hung in the air like a moldy pile of damp laundry. The tent flap opened easily. Too easily.
A male nurse gave me the cold once-over, took my information and motioned me to a seat with an elegant gesture. A queer feeling came over me, as though I had unwittingly crossed a threshold into...“Mr. Marlowe?" Old Doc Bergoglio himself stood before me. His horn-rimmed glasses only partially concealed a leering expression. “Hmmm," I thought, “that queer feeling again." He invited me into his examination area. A small partition in the back, hardly bigger than a confessional.
"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Marlowe?"
"Well Doc, I need a second opinion. My regular doc says I drink too much, I’m a borderline alcoholic. It’s got my liver in a tailspin. Cirrhosis. Can you do anything about it?"
Doc Bergoglio looked puzzled, but not displeased. "Mr. Marlowe, you are apparently suffering from nothing more than a bad case of outmoded traditional thinking."
"Whaddya mean, Doc?"
"I mean, Mr. Marlowe, that there’s no longer any such thing as alcoholism, or any of the other so-called addictive/compulsive disorders whose labels have oppressed so many for so long. You know: homosexuality, gambling, kleptomania, gluttony - such horrible pigeonholing!"
"If they aren’t disorders, Doc, then what are they?"
"My son, they are merely personal preferences and alternative lifestyles, each person expressing himself in his own unique way, as is his natural and civil right! The most enlightened thinking of the modern age has dispensed with all those cruel, discriminatory, unfair insults. You are liberated from society’s old chains! Throw away your crutches and walk!!"
"Jeez, Doc, if I’m so liberated, how come I can barely get out of bed in the morning?"
"Come, come, Mr. Marlowe, that is just an illusion! Here I am offering you the most profound compassion, and all you can do is to complain about your aches and pains!"
"Compassion! But Doc, I thought compassion required giving people what they needed to be healed!"
"Nonsense, my boy! Our prolonged intimacy with sheep has confirmed our new definition of compassion!" Bergoglio pulled a small book out of his back pocket and leafed hurriedly through the well-worn pages. I caught a glimpse of the title as it went by: The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Progressive Thought. “Let me see – ah, here it is right here! ‘Compassion: giving people what they want to deaden their conscience, such as cultural approval and high self-esteem, in order to maximize their self-realizing and liberating behaviors.’"
He closed his book triumphantly, stuffed it back in his pocket, and continued: “You see, young man, it is one’s misguided conscience, trapped in legalistic dogma, which causes suffering, not one’s behavior. Now gimme five and go – stop worrying, drink all you like, and enjoy life!!"
My head reeled with confusion, like a kid whose baseball hero had just been caught using steroids. I stumbled out of the tent, my eyes squinting in the glaring sunlight. I couldn’t make heads or tails of it. But I knew one thing for certain:
I needed a stiff drink.