Papal Power

Power of the Pope

Someone said to me recently, “the Pope doesn’t have any power.” I was a little taken aback, to be honest, because this person has had…well…let’s just say “plenty of schoolin.'”

For this entry, I focused only on the Early Modern and Modern eras, because, truly, a history of papal influence would take volumes, and maybe a lifetime, to write. When Martin V returned the papacy to Rome in 1420, the papacy began to take an increasingly active role in European wars and diplomacy. The “Warrior Pope,” Julius II (5 December 1443 – 21 February 1513), famously used his influence to reconcile the two powerful Roman families of Orsini and Colonna – no small feat. A continued war between those families could have split the empire – but this pope prevented it.

Julius II orchestrated a Venetian / Papal alliance which eventually expanded into the Holy League, which drove the French from Italy in 1512. Wars were fought at the direction of the Pope.

The Corsican Guard was the papal militia during the time of the Papal States, abolished in 1860.

The Swiss Guard were later created and dispatched to defend Vatican City, and the papacy.

But Julius is just an example. “But what about the modern papacy?” You might ask. “Surely the modern popes have no power?” So let’s “skip to the end,” as Prince Humperdink might implore.

Let’s just look at Pope John Paul II. He is credited with helping to end communism in Poland. When it finally collapsed in 1989, his visit to Poland is credited with helping to lay the groundwork of that collapse.

Pope JP II is also credited with playing a significant role in converting many conservative Catholics into Republican voters – a change from one of the most reliable Democratic voting blocs. The Pope’s influence expanded far outside of Catholic America, and actually started to influence election results.

Now, that is just a sampling of political influence – what about financial influence? The Catholic Church is the third largest landowner in the world. Their holdings consist of 110 acres of The Holy See that makes up Vatican City, plus 177 million more acreage of various lands owned by the Catholic Church around the globe. The National Post opined in 2013 that the Church’s wealth is impossible to estimate.

The American Catholic Church’s annual budget is $170 billion – and that’s just what they are actually spending.

Scholars on this topic have said it better than I: “… although the “sovereign” jurisdiction of the Papal government is minuscule, its direct political influence everywhere is considerable.” “The Role of the Vatican in the Modern World,” Eugene V. Rostow, Boston College, 1968.

When you’re a religious leader of one of the biggest, strongest, and richest world religions, you have a remarkable amount of political and social influence. Can Vatican City use the Swiss Guard to invade the USA and take us over? Likely not. Could a rogue Pope convince another country to do so? Probably. No power? Not really.

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