In the recent Papal visit to America, Pope Francis raised a quite a spectacle. Still, many view the Pope as a merely religious leader, a symbolic figurehead devoid of any real political power. But is this view really accurate?
With the Pope’s visit to America, we have to consider where he visited. The Pope visited Washington D.C., New York, and Philadelphia (the same cities visited by Pope John Paul II in 1979). Why these cities? While these cities do have large Catholic populations, there are other cities with larger Catholic populations.
These cities are all seats of POLITCAL power. Washington, of course, is the national capital. Philadelphia is the original capital of the United States. New York is home to the United Nations. The pope also visited Cuba, meeting with President Raul Castro in the Cuban capital.
The political leaders in each of these cities stumbled over themselves to greet the pope and be seen with him. They had no hesitation about disrupting the daily activities of these cities to welcome the pope with great pomp and ceremony.
Upon the pope’s arrival at the Washington airport, the President and Vice-President of the United States were already there waiting for him on the tarmac. The pope spoke before Congress. House leader John Boehner wept during the Pope’s speech and resigned from Congress the day after he had a moving encounter with Pope Francis. The pope had a private meeting with the President of the United States.
In New York, the pope spoke before the United Nations, the world political body.
The pope also visited Philadelphia and gave a speech before Independence Hall, the original capital of the United States. He was met by the Mayor of Philadelphia and the Governor of Pennsylvania. The mayor of Philadelphia virtually shut down a large portion of the city for the Papal mass and parade. Public transportation was re-appropriated only for transportation to and from the papal events. Many local businesses were forced to shut down for several days and people were forced to move their cars from street parking or be towed.
The papal events received security provided by the Secret Service. The mission of the Secret Service is to protect leaders, not to protect the public. The Secret Services’ services are apparently going to be paid for with tax dollars for the events of a religious leader.
All of this is an indication of the political power that the pope really wields.
Technically, the Pope is the leader of a “nation” – Vatican City. But is Vatican City a legitimate “nation”? Vatican City is less than 1/4 square miles in size and is home to only about 800 people. What other leader of a state that size gets to speak before Congress, have presidents meet him at airports, shut down cities and have parades in their honor?
The reason for the Pope’s (perceived or real) political power is because of the number of RELIGIOUS followers he has.
These followers are zealous to the extent that millions of them travel the world just to see him in person. This fanaticism can cause people to (consciously or subconsciously) disregard the separation of church and state. It also causes supposedly knowledgeable political leaders to temporarily abandon the separation of church and state for a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity. This includes political leaders who are not even Catholic themselves.
We tend to think of the Pope (this Pope or any pope) as a religious leader who just happens to be occasionally venturing into the political arena. But Popes have been involved with and highly influential in the political arena for centuries – since the Papacy’s beginning, in fact.
Whether you agree or disagree with the Papacy’s positions on the issues is irrelevant to the point of this opinion editorial.
If Pope Francis’ visit was merely a religious event, then via the Secret Service protection, tax payers will have subsidized a religious event. If the event was strictly political (so as to receive Secret Service protection), why the religious worship services? Could it be that the religious pomp and ceremony was merely a means to an end – a political end? Or are the events an attempt to usurp political forces to enforce religion? In either case, it is an abuse of the democratic political system. All of this confusion is always the result of clouding the separation of church and state.