Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lives of Our Leaders: It's Good to Be King ... Not So Great to Be Pope

(The Screaming Pope continues his series on problems of leadership by highlighting the plight of a colleague.)

Pope Benedict, aka the former Cardinal Ratzinger (NYT, April l0th, “Pope Put Off Punishing Abusive Priest”), has been getting some bad press for his handling of the church’s response to pedophile priests. Lucrezia Borgia’s father, who became Alexander VI, also got himself involved in imbroglios of a Machiavellian nature, but the problems faced by the papacy in Renaissance times were obviously far different from what Pope Benedict faces today, where the case involves a priest who tied up children. The current spate of accusations make it clear that it is good to be king, especially in a place like England, where you are basically a figurehead who makes lots of money and does little, while it is not so good to be pope, where there are numerous homunculi, or in this case succubi, that need to be patrolled. In the good old days a pope was a pope. Yes, he was mayor of the Vatican City. Yes, he had to conduct all those masses and dress up in papal garb (one thing that is never discussed by historians of the papacy is dry cleaning, i.e., who cleans the pope’s robes, especially if he lays one of those embarrassing farts that leave a stain). During the Second World War, you had Pius XII, who remained mostly silent in the face of the Holocaust. There were those who might have disagreed with the Pope’s behavior (like the German playwright Rolf Hochhuth, who wrote The Deputy), but the pope was a spiritual leader whose love for his flock removed him from the obligations usually accorded to statesmen. For today’s popes, life isn’t so simple. Everything has become politicized, and the pope is called upon to be not only the leader of the Catholic Church, but also an example to others in leadership positions. Caveat Emptor: before the next Cardinal becomes Pope, he should be aware of what’s up for grabs, and also make sure he has a good liability policy.  

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