Rev. Stewart is pastor of Covenant Protestant Reformed Church in Northern Ireland. Previous article in this series: December 1, 2008, p. 112.
The logical place to begin a discussion of the political power of the Roman Catholic Church today is, of course, the Vatican, a sovereign city-state within the city of Rome. Established in 1929, the Vatican City is the world’s smallest state, both by area (108.7 acres) and population (c. 800). Its citizenry is 100% Roman Catholic, its highest functionaries are Roman clergy, and its non-hereditary, elected monarch is the pope. Jesuit Thomas J. Reese mentions several other remarkable features of this unique state.
The . . . Vatican City is a sovereign state recognized under international law . . . . As ruler of Vatican City the pope is the last absolute monarch in Europe, with supreme legislative, judicial, and executive authority. He also controls all the assets of the Vatican, since this is a state economy without private property other than personal possessions of the employees and residents…its purpose is to provide an internationally recognized territory where the Holy See can operate in total freedom, without political interference.¹
The Holy See claims the oldest continuous diplomatic service in the world, going back at least as far as the Council of Nicea (325). It also possesses one of the world’s most capable diplomatic corps.
Nuncios [i.e., papal ambassadors] . . . speak for the pope to local governments and local churches. As professional diplomats who know their business, they are given high grades by their secular counterparts because of their training, experience, and extensive contacts in the country. While most embassies have few contacts outside government circles, nunciatures through contacts with the local church have sources of information unavailable to most embassies many times their size. The newsgathering potential of these contacts would be the envy of CNN or the CIA. This is one reason governments find it valuable to have embassies to the Holy See. “If you want to know what’s going on in Mozambique” or other countries, Ambassador Flynn [America’s official representative to the Holy See, 1993-1997] reports, “there’s any one of a thousand Catholic workers that are in there administering to the poor, out in the villages, out in the boondocks, out in the grassroots, and they report back to the Vatican. I can have conversations with the Vatican, and the Vatican can tell me what’s going on there or in Libya.”²
Rome’s political power rests upon her nominal membership of about one billion, some one-sixth of the earth’s population, making it the largest multinational organization in the world. Many voters and powerful people around the world are Roman Catholics. All of them are under the authority of the “Holy Father” and “Vicar of Christ,” owing (but not always giving) the pope complete obedience.
. . . the “subjects” of the state of Vatican City . . . live in every part of the world. Every person who has been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, and who has not left the Church or been excommunicated by the Church, is a subject of the state of Vatican City. These subjects owe to the sovereign of the state of Vatican City absolute, complete and unquestioning spiritual and political allegiance no matter where they may be living and no matter what the laws of the nation within which they are living may be.³
Although many are not aware of it, Rome has significant political influence in the United States. For example, Roman Catholic social teaching, enshrined in Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum (1891) and Pius XI’s Quadragesimo Anno (1931), as well as liberal Protestantism’s social gospel, facilitated the election and subsequent re-elections of the longest-serving U.S. President, Democrat Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1933-1945), and the implementation of the New Deal, which promoted government interventionism, state redistribution of wealth, and trade unionism.4
Although formal diplomatic relations between America and the Holy See began only in 1984, since then the U.S. has called upon Vatican ambassadors for help on various occasions.
The Vatican has . . . been secretly used to convey messages to governments that the United States has poor relations with, such as Iraq, Iran, and Libya. The nuncio in Iran visited the American captives at the U.S. embassy, and the nuncio in Iraq helped in getting two American prisoners released in 1995.5
Today, Roman Catholicism accounts for a higher percentage of the population of the United States than ever before and is, in fact, the largest church in the world’s most powerful nation.6 This would have gratified John Ireland (1838-1918), Archbishop of Saint Paul, Minnesota, who famously declared,
Let me state, as I conceive it, the work which, in God’s providence, the Catholics of the United States are called to do within the coming century. It is twofold: to make America Catholic, and to solve for the Church universal the all-absorbing problems with which religion is confronted in the present age . . . . The work defines the measure of the responsibility. . . . The work is to make America Catholic. . . . The Church is triumphing in America, Catholic truth will travel on the wings of American influence, and encircle the universe.7
Republican George W. Bush is probably the most openly pro-Rome U.S. President in history. He repeatedly referred to John Paul II as a great spiritual and moral leader. The 43rd President even hosted the eighty-first birthday party of the 265th pope, Benedict XVI, in the White House (16 April, 2008).
As presidential hopeful, Democratic Senator Barack Obama significantly chose for his running mate Senator Joe Biden, an Irish-American Roman Catholic. The number 1 and the number 3 most liberal politicians in the 100-member Senate subsequently won the election and about half of the Roman Catholic vote. Some Roman Catholics voted against Obama on the basis of their church’s right-wing bio-ethics; others—much to the disgust of their staunch pro-life co-religionists—voted for Obama because of the broad agreement between his left-wing socio-economic ideology and that of their church or because of the liberal media hype, etc. American Roman Catholics, always amongst the most “progressive” in global Romanism, are both increasingly left-wing and increasingly divided. This would not have been
The name changes from the European Economic Community (EEC, 1957) to the European Community (EC, 1979) and the European Union (EU, 1992) are significant, reflecting progressively greater integration towards a European superstate.8 Adrian Hilton points out,
The [EU, as it is now called] started under the inspiration of [Roman] Catholic politicians—such as [Konrad] Adenauer of Germany, Paul-Henri Spaak [of Belgium], Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman [both of France]. They were all Christian Democrats. They were all deeply influenced by Catholic social teaching.9
Robert Schuman, the “Father of Europe,” was an especially devout Roman Catholic, strongly influenced by the writings of Pius XII, Thomas Aquinas, and Jacques Maritain. He, Adenauer, and Alcide de Gasperi (founder of the Italian Christian Democratic Party), three of the pioneers of European unification, are in the process of being made into “saints” by the Vatican as a reward for founding the new Europe “on Roman Catholic principles.” The European Union’s “single market,” “social chapter,” and “subsidiarity” are concepts of the Vatican’s social teaching.
But Rome is not having everything its own way in the European Union. Despite John Paul II’s placing Europe in Mary’s hands and urging that the final draft of the European Constitution (2004) should explicitly recognize the Christian roots of the continent, the Vatican’s representatives failed to secure any mention of Europe’s “Christian [i.e., Roman Catholic] heritage”—one of the papacy’s cherished goals.
Rome claims that John Paul II, the Polish pope, was instrumental in bringing down communism in eastern Europe, by being the spiritual inspiration behind its downfall. But whether this is so or not, he was disappointed in his hope that Poles and other Roman Catholics would emerge from behind the Iron Curtain to revitalize Romanism in western Europe. Secularization proceeds from the Atlantic to the Urals. In part through the scandal of paedophile (i.e., homosexual) priests, Roman Catholic vocations are well down in Europe.10 Even in the Republic of Ireland, a very Roman Catholic country, and despite much pressure from the hierarchy, in a national referendum (24 November, 1995) a (narrow) majority voted to repeal the constitutional prohibition of divorce.
The League of Nations (1919) was formed after, and in response to, World War I (1914-1918), as an international governing body designed to prevent war through disarmament, collective security, negotiation, and diplomacy. The United Nations (1945) was founded as its more powerful successor after World War II (1939-1945), which the League of Nations had been unable to stop.
“From the very beginning,” writes Thomas Reese, “the papacy has . . . been a strong supporter of the United Nations, despite its problems, as the best hope for peace.”11 Rome repeatedly calls for the strengthening of its powers and even appeals for one world government as the most effective way of ending all war. Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (1965) issues this impassioned plea, for what will be, in effect, the global kingdom of Antichrist in whose day war (Matt. 24:6-7) will come to an end (cf. I Thess. 5:3; Rev. 13:3-4, 8, 12, 14-17):
It is our clear duty, then, to strain every muscle as we work for the time when all war can be completely outlawed by international consent. This goal undoubtedly requires the establishment of some universal public authority acknowledged as such by all, and endowed with effective power to safeguard on the behalf of all, security, regard for justice, and respect for rights. But before this hoped-for authority can be set up, the highest existing international centers must devote themselves vigorously to the pursuit of better means for obtaining common security. Peace must be born of mutual trust between nations rather than imposed on them through fear of one another’s weapons.12
Rome’s Way Forward
The Church of Rome is numerically stronger than it has ever been but more doctrinally divided than at any time. Beyond the biblical framework of predictive prophecy, no one knows what the future holds except the sovereign God. But we can consider where the Vatican wants to go from its current labors and policy statements. As it casts about for a “winning combination” to restore its fortunes in an aggressively secular and pluralist world, the major factors in Rome’s push for greater religious and political power are false ecumenism and syncretism. The Holy See desires one world religion, with the pope at the summit of the earthly kingdom of god/man.
. . . to be continued.
¹ Thomas J. Reese, Inside the Vatican (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 16.
² Reese, Inside the Vatican, pp. 266-267.
³ Albert LÃ©vitt, Vaticanism: The Political Principles of the Roman Catholic Church (Vantage Press: New York, 1960), p. 23.
4 Cf. John W. Robbins, Ecclesiastical Megalomania: The Economic and Political Thought of the Roman Catholic Church (USA: The Trinity Foundation, 1999), pp. 46-47, 81-84, etc. Roman Catholic priest, socialist, and radio personality “Father” Charles Coughlin, of Oak Royal, Detroit, famously proclaimed, “The New Deal is Christ’s deal!” When, however, Roosevelt “rehabilitated rather than expropriated the banks,” Coughlin announced, “I am in favor of a New Deal,” for even more radical left-wing policies (David M. Kennedy, Freedom from Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999], pp. 231-232).
5 Reese, Inside the Vatican, p. 267.
6 There is a Roman Catholic majority in the U.S. Supreme Court. The top governorship in America, that of California, is held by Roman Catholic Republican, bodybuilder, and movie star, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
7 Quoted in LÃ©vitt, Vaticanism, p. 12; italics mine.
8 The Treaty of Rome (1957), the founding treaty of the EEC (now the EU), focused on economic co-operation, but it also called for “an ever closer union” to “eliminate the barriers which divide Europe.”
9 Adrian Hilton, The Principality and Power of Europe (England: Dorchester House Publications, 1997), p. 18.
10 Over 90% of the sexual abuse victims are teenage boys rather than girls or prepubescents.
11 Reese, Inside the Vatican, p. 272.
12 Walter M. Abbot (gen. ed.), The Documents of Vatican II (USA: The America Press, 1966), pp. 295-296.