The pope’s battalions

Published in 20th-century / Contemporary History, Issue 6 (Nov/Dec 2010), Letters, Volume 18

Sir,—I wish to respond to your comment on the Vatican in your last editorial (HI 18.5, Sept./Oct. 2010), beginning with the implicit criticism of it for being secular and institutional, and for exercising temporal powers. It is essential for it to be all three of those things, since it exists in the temporal world as well as the spiritual. Catholics are not angels but humans, and they need institutions. Indeed, if the Church were not secular and institutional, that fact would attract many more criticisms, and they would be right.

As regards the existence of a papal army: the Papal States were donated to the Church by Charlemagne, as compensation for all that the Roman Empire had stolen from it over the centuries, especially during the many persecutions of Christians. Those estates provided money that the Vatican needed to protect the Church throughout the world. And those estates needed protection from greedy outsiders. They existed at a time when there was no nationwide protective army or police force. So the papacy had to do what every other landholder of that time did: it maintained its own armed force for protection. And, as your editorial pointed out, the actions of the pope’s army were defensive, not offensive. When Garibaldi enforced the unification of Italy, he confiscated the Papal States for the new country; and as the Papal States disappeared, so did the pope’s army.
As to the charge that the Church is not accountable, or transparent, or democratic: it is ultimately accountable to the greatest Judge of all. It cannot always be transparent, in order to protect people’s rights, and indeed because the staff may not have the time to be transparent. And it most assuredly cannot—must not—be democratic: morality cannot depend on a ballot.—Yours etc.,



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