Trouble in Paradise: The Clericus Cup

A priestly header.So we’ve had the Second Coming at Newcastle. We’ve had a sure sign of the Apocalypse at White Hart Lane. About the only thing this week needs to make the average football fan look nervously toward the skies is news that a Vatican-backed tournament for priests and seminarians has been disrupted by unruly fans and a flurry of red cards. Well. Ask and ye shall receive, or something to that effect.

You might have heard of the Clericus Cup, a competition sponsored by the Catholic Italian Sports Center under the auspices of Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Pope’s Secretary of State (also a Juventus fan). The tournament is open to teams of priests and would-be priests from around the world, and is intended, according to Sports Center Director Edio Costantini, “to reinvigorate the tradition of sport inside the Christian community.”

Costantini says that football can serve as a means to “personal, social and spiritual growth.” And the Pope himself, who has endorsed the tournament, believes that football can “increasingly be the vehicle of the values of honesty, solidarity and fraternity.” (He’s a Bayern fan, Benedict, but he isn’t renowned for his fervor.)

What no prophet foretold, though, as visions of solidarity and fraternity danced in their heads, was that once the priests strapped on their boots, they were going to want to win the thing, social and spiritual growth be damned. Last year, the final descended into chaos when seminarians from the Pontifical Lateran University believed the striker for Redemptoris Mater College had dived to win the decisive penalty. After the match, the victorious Redemptoris Mater players covered one another in champagne. “Priestly footballers?” La Stampa harrumphed. “Worse than Materazzi.”


This year, the tournament has already seen three straight red cards handed out in a week—two for verbal abuse—and, best of all, rowdy crowds who have shown up with, as the Guardian chronicles it, “drums, megaphones, trumpets, maracas and ghetto blasters.” The volume has disturbed the neighbors, and now the teams are being threatened with supporter bans if they can’t show more of the peace that passeth all understanding and make less of a joyful noise unto the Lord.

An intense piece of Clericus Cup action.The prohibition extends to the loud chants, many of them in Latin, that fans of various teams have dreamed up, as well as to the drum-beating of the Maria Mater Ecclesiae College contingent (Mexican), the reggae music of the Urban College contingent (African), and the megaphones of the Romano Maggiore Pontifical Seminary (Italian). It’s like a tiny, obnoxious World Cup!

Fans of the Martyrs of the Pontifical North American College have taken to chanting “Come on you Knackers, kick some caboose,” for which, surely, they would all go to hell if they weren’t so comprehensively protected.

My only question about this tournament is: Why, why can’t I get it on TV? Sure, the African Cup of Nations has been terrific so far, and there’s top-flight cup action all over the place this week. But wouldn’t you drop it in a second to watch two teams of out-of-shape priests knock the living daylights out of each other as their supporters chanted in Latin while playing maracas and trumpets? Have you got a soul? What’s the point of living in the modern world if I can’t even get a pirated Chinese stream of the Clericus Cup?

I will walk through the valley of the shadow of having no idea. Let there be a light lunch.

Brian Phillips is having a light lunch at The Run of Play.

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