The Politics Of The Papacy

This morning, I touched on the political ramifications of the next Pope. In the comments, several people questioned whether the choosing of the Pope should involve politics at all, and whether non-Catholics such as myself should have any opinion at all on the next head of the Roman Catholic church.

To address the second point first, I have to admit I really don’t have any right to say who I think should be the next Pope. But I say that with one caveat — I would be appalled, disgusted, and dismayed if any leader of the American Catholic Church would be appointed. At the height of the child sex abuse scandal, a full 2/3s (117 of 175) of the Cardinals (correction: bishops — see Update #2, below) were involved in it — either as perpetrators of the deeds, attempted to conceal it and transferred the pedophiles to new, unsuspecting parishes, or simply did nothing while it occurred. All three actions were violations of both the Laws of Man and their Church.

On the first point, it must be remembered that the Pontiff is also a political figure. Vatican City is an independent nation, and and the Pope is the head of state. And the political influence of the nation of Vatican City is far in excess of its apparent power through population, economics, or military power. And as such, who the Cardinals choose as the next Pope is a supremely political matter.

And there’s nothing inherently wrong with politics. While I’ve always loved Dave Barry’s definition of “politics” (“From the Latin ‘poli,’ meaning ‘many,’ and ‘tics,’ meaning ‘small, biting insects'”), it’s simply the art of people getting along. Everything is, in some sense or another, “political.” It’s only when the “politics” take precedence over the actual getting-along part that it becomes a problem.

And so I, along with the rest of the world, await to see who the Cardinals choose as the next Vicar of Christ. And while I certainly don’t think “political” concerns should be the determining factor, they would be fools and worse if such considerations did not weigh in their deliberations.

And say what you wish about the Catholic Church — the men who run it are no fools.


Update #1: I’d like to thank Harvey and Faith for commenting on the lack of the Vatican’s military. It gives me an excuse to add back in a line I’d intended to insert, but slipped my mind:

Stalin once famously asked “how many divisions has the Pope?” when dismissing any concern about the disapproval of the Catholic Church. But while it is true that the Heir to The Throne Of Saint Peter has no divisions, his followers are legion.

Update #2: Jim and Julie both questioned my citation of “117 of 175 Cardinals.” They’re quite right, I meant bishops. I was misled by the prominence of Bernard Cardinal Law, late of Boston, at the forefront of the scandal. He held both titles, and as a non-Catholic it was that which led to my confusion. Thanks, folks.

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