Nothing can distract you in Santa Martha. When you enter the residence, where the Vatican accommodates some of its visitors, there is no Raphael fresco or Bernini sculptor to catch your eye. Just plain white walls and green plants on a tidily kept marble floor. The outside six-story facade and the inside lobby alike are as neutral and impartial as a clinic. Yet the one you may come across, in the elevator, is Pope Francis. He stays in Room 201 on the second floor. A young cardinal once found himself with the pope suddenly entering the lift. "Holy Father," he said most politely. Francis replied: "Holy Son!" The pope recently explained to journalists that he had insisted on taking the elevator alone, with no one on duty to accompany him: "My life is as normal as I can make it." And as normal as one of a priest, that he wants it to remain.
These questions come to me as, almost simultaneously, the pope resigns, America's leading newspaper reports day after day about continuing sexual abuse, homosexual culture and political intrigue in the Church, and Professor Wills, this country's most longstanding and prolific Catholic gadfly, publishes perhaps his most iconoclastic book yet about Christian faith.