VATICAN CITY—In the interim between Pope John Paul II's death and the election of his replacement, unsupervised Catholics seized the opportunity to sin without fear of reprisal, sources confirmed Tuesday.
"For two weeks, it was like Mardi Gras all over again," said Bryan Cousivert, a Catholic from Arizona. "People were drinking, cursing, and engaging in premarital or even extramarital sex. More importantly, everyone was being totally open about it. No one was worried about doing any penance at all!"
Continued Cousivert: "When the cat's away, the mice will play."
Paulo Verrazetti, a resident of Rome, said he and other Italians respectfully refrained from reveling until after Pope John Paul II's funeral.
"We all mourned John Paul II's death," said Verrazetti, who was at St. Peter's Square for the former pope's funeral. "But when Vatican officials said that final 'Amen,' you could feel something change in the air. Someone screamed 'festa!' and pretty soon Catholic women were going wild, running topless in the streets. Last month, seeing a woman with no clothes on would have sent me straight to the confessional. But without a pope around, well… Let's put it this way. For a couple weeks, Catholics the world over adopted the motto, 'If it feels good, do it.'"
Even those who only watched Pope John Paul II's funeral on television reported experiencing "feelings of newfound freedom."
"As they recited the Apostles' Creed, I remember thinking of all the things I want to do, but don't because of my devotion to the Church," said Antonio Valez, a Catholic from Mexico City. "As soon as I heard the pope was laid to rest, I said a prayer for the Holy Father's departed soul and went straight out and bought a box of condoms. Actually, I'm wearing one right now. It's been on all day and I'm loving it."
Carl Whitestone, an 82-year-old lifelong Catholic from Beaver Dam, WI said he experienced a similar sense of freedom.
"When I heard the pope was dead, the first thing I thought about, besides how much the great man will be missed, was the big bloody steak I was going to eat on Friday," said Whitestone. "When the pope was alive, I never would've thought of flouting the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code Of Canon Law. But once he was out of the picture, I immediately bore false witness against my neighbor. And then I coveted his wife."
Many Catholics said they started out cautiously, limiting their misconduct to non-mortal sins: taking the Lord's name in vain, failing to contemplate the mysteries of the rosary, or sleeping in on Sunday morning instead of going to Mass. But when they saw no immediate consequences for their behavior, their sins became progressively more severe.
While church officials were reluctant to comment on how many recent murders might be attributable to the papal lapse, several cardinals said they were relieved when the papal conclave commenced.
"It was really getting out of control," said Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, the prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. "The pope is the gatekeeper between piety and anarchy. Without a papal presence, Catholics were thinking impure thoughts, manipulating their own genitals, and acting as if homosexuality was no big deal. Thank goodness we gathered to choose the new pope, or God's Kingdom on Earth might look like Sodom and Gomorrah by now."
Papal scholars said the recent bacchanalia was the worst in more than a quarter of a century.
"I haven't seen anything like this since Pope Paul VI died in 1978," said Fr. Robert Mendiga, a Jesuit priest at St. Andrew's School of Divinity in North Carolina. "This was the '70s, the era of pre-AIDS sexual experimentation and widespread recreational-drug use. Catholics, especially Americans, were quite willing to be led into temptation. It stopped when John Paul I was chosen, but when he died one month later, Catholics went right back to sinning."
"Yup," the priest added, gazing into the distance. "1978 was a very special year."