The Ovum Factor Book Cover

Chapter 6


On a blustery day in Rome, some four weeks before the ASEM annual meeting in New York City, a solitary figure walked along the sidewalk bordering the imposing walls of the Vatican. It was still early, and because of the dismal weather, the street was mostly deserted. The small man, in his early fifties, was wearing a short coat, which he had buttoned tightly over his suit. The collar was raised to protect him from the chill, and the brim of his fedora had been deliberately bent downward to conceal his face from passers-by.

The man stopped at a large entry gate. Here two smaller doors were also cut into thick stone walls that were centuries old. This entrance was known as Porta Pertusa, and throughout the Vatican’s long history it was one of the least used by its many popes. In fact, this gate had remained unopened for decades. But that would change on this day.

As instructed, the man stopped in front of the gate, pulled out a phone, and dialled the number given to him. Then, after letting it ring twice, he hung up and pressed himself against the wall, as much for shelter as to remain inconspicuous. As he waited for some response, he cursed the miserable weather and particularly the strange circumstances under which he found himself here. Exactly one week earlier, he had received an urgent message to come to the small church in his home town of Adrano in eastern Sicily. There he was met by the longtime priest, Father Santangelo, who passed on to him an extraordinary request.

“You have been summoned to Rome next week to meet Cardinal Emilio Cardoso,” whispered the priest in an almost conspiratorial tone. “Regrettably, I have no other information to give you except that you must present yourself at the Porta Pertusa of the Vatican on Saturday morning. Once there, call this number. But do not wait for any response. Hang up after only two rings and stay there.”

Father Santangelo had seemed unusually edgy throughout the short encounter. Then, after delivering those simple yet inexplicable instructions, he apologized that he had to leave for another appointment.

Now, one week later, the man found himself doing as he had been asked. Several minutes had passed since the phone call, and he could hear movement from behind one of the two smaller doors on either side of the main gate. There was a sudden clanking as if a large bolt had been disturbed, and a high-pitched creak accompanied the motion of the ancient wooden door as it swung inward.

“Mr. Santini,” said a young man dressed in the garments of a novice priest. “Welcome to the Vatican. Please follow me.”

The novice then closed the door, replaced the bolt, and moved inward through a dark tunnel. After a few steps, he opened a small door and motioned for Santini to follow. Climbing several flights of circular stairs, both men arrived puffing at a landing. This led off to another door, quite large and beautifully carved. The novice pushed the door open and led Santini into a spacious waiting room. This immaculately decorated room was part of the St. John’s Tower, one of several built in the fifteenth century for protection of this section of the wall. In recent years, the prominent round tower had been restored and turned into a temporary residence for important guests of the Vatican State. The young priest requested that Santini take a seat and left, closing the door behind him.

However, the slight man in the tight-fitting suit was far too nervous to accept this suggestion. Instead, he paced back and forth in front of a large marble mantel over the unlit fireplace. Hung on the wall over this mantel was a portrait of a young warrior in body armor seated on a horse. He studied the painting without much initial interest but soon found himself mesmerized by the expression of self-assurance and tranquility on the man’s face.

How can I be as calm? he wondered. Why am I here?

As he had for almost every waking minute of the past week, Dario Santini was certain that final judgment was soon to be upon him—a judgment he had feared yet somehow expected for many years now. Suddenly, he heard footsteps behind him and whirled around, lowering his body instinctively against possible attack from an unknown adversary.

“Do not worry Mr. Santini,” came a resonant approaching voice. “I mean you no harm.”

The man who spoke these words was tall and thin and wore a brilliant crimson cassock. He was well into his eighties yet retained his vigor, which was evident by the way he walked. His deep-set, intense eyes also revealed a man of both passion and power. Santini immediately recognized Cardinal Emilio Cardoso, one of the most prominent figures in the Vatican hierarchy.

“Your Eminence,” said Santini with a deep bow of respect.

“Mr. Santini, thank you for making the trip here. I am sorry if I startled you. But as you can probably imagine, there are other entry points into these rooms apart from the doorway you used. Now, allow me to be frank. You no doubt know who I am, and I certainly know who you are. So we can dispense with any pretenses to the contrary. You have led the life you have chosen, and now your past has brought you to this present moment of reckoning.”

Santini’s blood ran cold, and he could feel perspiration welling up and soaking into his shirt in spite of the damp chill in the room. I knew there would eventually be a price to pay for my deeds, but what will it be?

“Do you believe in the sanctity of human life?” asked Cardinal Cardoso in what could only be described as a rhetorical fashion. He continued without waiting for a reply. “Perhaps not, because you have devoted much of yours to taking it away from others. Yet you have seen fit to repent your past and cease these brutal crimes.”

Damn that Father Santangelo! thought Santini in a fury. How could he break the sanctity of the confessional? How dare he reveal secrets entrusted to him in this most sacrosanct process!

“No, my son,” continued Cardinal Cardoso appearing to notice this sudden anger. “Do not seek to lay blame on anyone for my knowledge about your past. I know about you from your deeds. Not your words spoken in remorse and regret. Now, I insist you be seated since what I have to say may take some time, and I cannot remain standing for so long.”

Cardinal Cardoso motioned to matching armchairs located on either side of the massive fireplace. He waited for Santini to sit in one before he lowered himself into the other.

“When I ask you about the sanctity of life, I am referring to human existence and not to specific individuals. People live and die. Yet humanity continues as it has since the very beginning—based on God’s love. These past years have been full of threats to what our Lord has created. Science has increasingly encroached upon the sanctity of human life, created in God’s image and according to his divine plan. Mr. Santini, I want to start by telling you that what I am about to say comes only from myself and not from any others. Is that perfectly clear?”

Santini was not sure what this meant but nodded nonetheless.

Cardinal Cardoso continued. “The words I am about to speak could never represent the policy of our church and our Holy Father who would certainly condemn me for uttering them. I am to be damned for all eternity. Yet that is a price I am fully prepared to pay.” Santini felt a momentary surge of relief that the Cardinal was talking only of himself as being damned. But where was this heading?

“There are scientists and physicians today who choose to disregard the most basic precepts of their professions. They deliberately tamper with what does not belong in their realm. They seek to take into their purview the ultimate acts and results of procreation. And, they are increasingly using their craft to alter and influence human life itself.

“For years now, this has been viewed by our holy church as an abomination. Yet we have remained on the sidelines, silent in our actions yet voicing our deep concern and disapproval of what was being done. This applies to such acts as conception outside the womb or the even more troubling use of unborn human embryos for the purpose of medical research.

“Now, I am telling you this because, from what I understand, your chosen skill is not applied randomly. You have used it only against those who you yourself agree deserve to pay the ultimate price for their transgressions. There is a program which started a few years ago whose aim is to subvert the very essence of humanity—our consciousness given to us by God himself. This so-called scientific research is the product of the imagination and skills of but a single individual. Yet it could only have been conceived by Satan himself, so great is its potential for the destruction of all human existence.

“May God forgive me for what I am about to ask. But this person, this completely misguided individual, must have his work stopped. Now, I have tried to intercede and use our influence to prevent him from obtaining the financing he requires to continue. Still, it is likely that he will somehow find allies willing to give him the money he needs. There is only one option left to put an end to an imminent threat which cannot be left ignored and unchallenged. This man and his work must not be allowed to continue.”

By now, the gist of where the discussion was heading became all too familiar to Santini. Over the years, he had heard similar types of arguments put forward to justify why other men should not be allowed to go on living.

“Your Eminence,” said Santini. “I am a simple man from a humble background. You may know my village—Adrano. It lies on the slopes of Mount Etna. What you are telling me is beyond my comprehension. And, even if I could understand and agree with all that you say, I have made a holy vow never to take a human life again. How can I possibly break this vow? No, please understand and forgive me. I am not the person who can help you in this matter.”

Cardinal Cardoso was undeterred. “I noticed you looking at that painting as I entered,” he said, motioning toward the mantel. “Do you know who it represents?”

Without waiting he continued.

“That is Saint Matthias of Tübingen. Several hundred years ago, he left his life of debauchery and inherited riches on a quest to recover relics stolen from the holy church. Through his bravery, he succeeded in restoring these. But he paid a terrible price when he was eventually captured and brutally tortured by the thieves. Even at the moment of his approaching death, he remained steadfast. He knew that the price he was paying was small measured against what he had won back—his eternal salvation. You, my son, must now see yourself like him. As a knight of the holy church.”

“But, Your Eminence,” protested Santini, his heart now pounding with emotion, “there must be many men who could undertake this mission. Men who are far more capable than me and certain not to fail you. Why have you chosen me? Why me?”

“You have the right to ask such a question, my son,” replied the Cardinal calmly, “and it deserves a proper answer. I have selected you because, unlike these murderous assassins and godless criminals you talk of, you are a man who has not abandoned his sick child nor turned his back on his wife. You have not chosen to lavish upon yourself luxuries but have continued to live a simple life based on faith and family. Yet for you, the path to redemption now lies in this one final act of your former life of brutality. Only by completing this mission can you be cleansed of your past crimes. Only this way can you ever find salvation and true absolution. That is why I have selected you. That is why there is no alternative but for you to accept.”

For Santini, these words opened a torrent of emotions of long-repressed guilt. He fell to his knees weeping.

“Forgive me, Your Eminence, but I find this whole situation more than I can bear.”

For the next hour, both men prayed. There was not one but two conflicted souls faced with breaking the most sacred of their life’s vows. Finally, Santini regained his composure and spoke.

“Is it possible that God has always intended for me to carry out this task? Perhaps everything that I did before was only a preparation for this one true purpose of my life? If so, then all my past misdeeds can be explained. May God forgive me for all that I have done. And for what I have yet to do.”