Faithful should distinguish between Catholic faith and Vatican state
OPINION:Maybe time has come to pray for an end to the Vatican state, Europe’s last absolute monarchy, writes JOHN MANNION
THE PUBLIC response to the recent Vatican embassy closure indicates that many devout Catholics are unable to distinguish between the Catholic faith and the Vatican state.
Central to the former is our belief in Jesus Christ as God incarnate, but nowhere in our creed do we profess a belief in the Vatican state, of whose origins and history we know practically nothing.
Given that Taoiseach Enda Kenny travels to Rome this weekend to meet the pope, it may be timely to try lift the veil on these matters.
To do so, it is necessary to go back to AD313 when the Roman emperor, Constantine, legitimised Christianity but left Rome shortly afterwards for a new capital in present day Turkey, Constantinople. Gradually the pope stepped into the power vacuum in the West and rapidly acquired land and wealth.
The Lombards, a pagan tribe who moved into northern Italy in the late sixth century, gradually converted to Christianity, grew powerful and began to tax the Roman citizenry. In 752 pope Stephen II travelled north and appealed to Pepin the Short, king of the Franks, to save Rome from the Lombards using the “Donation of Constantine”, a document claiming Constantine had given his palace and extensive territories to the pope.
Pepin, having routed the Lombards, handed all the conquered lands to the pope; thus began the papal states. That the document was a forgery became public only in 1517. In the meantime it had been influential and the only English pope, Adrian 1V, used it to justify giving Ireland to Henry II of England.
As papal power increased, so did the struggle to influence and control the election of the pope. Equally the power claims of the papal office increased until, by the end of the reign of Gregory VII in 1085, he was “vicar of Christ” with power over the whole world.
The clergy and people of Rome had elected the pope since apostolic times. However, following disputed papal elections the Lateran synod, in 769, barred the laity from voting and decreed that only deacons and cardinals were eligible to be elected.
Later, in 1059, pope Nicholas II decreed that in future, cardinals only would elect the new pope. And so the office of cardinal, previously with merely liturgical duties and with no basis whatever in the Bible, became a source of power and influence in the administration of the papal states.
The pope alone chooses the cardinals and if there was a papal election tomorrow, 124 would be eligible to vote, of whom 30 are Italians, 37 from other parts of Europe, and only 21 from all of Latin America, which has the highest Catholic population on the globe.
It may also be relevant here to say something about justice.
Current Catholic justice has its origin in the Roman Inquisition founded by pope Gregory IX in 1232, which ushered in one of the most shameful episodes in all of human history. It formalised the practices of killing, burning or imprisoning heretics. Modified over time, it still exists under a changed name (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith), but its rules owe much to its history and very little to contemporary standards of justice.