The Pope and the President

There were two major stories in the news this week. This first was the unexpected resignation of the Pope. The second was the President's State of the Union Address. These two figures, the Pope and the President, may seem to be completely different. Really, though, they are very much the same.

To many, the Pope can seem out of step with modern times. He, and his office, can be seen to represent antiquity. He is seen as a relic of tyrannous times, when Kings ruled over their subjects with iron fists, and the Pope did the same to them. What is often neglected is that the Pope was one of the first public leaders to be elected in modern history. Sure, not everyone could go and cast their ballot for the Bishop of Rome, but they could tell their local Cardinal who they wanted, and he might cast his vote accordingly. This is no example of true democracy, but neither is our Presidential election. The College of Cardinals and the Electoral College are two examples of the same thing. The Pope is not an emperor, and the President is not really chosen by the people, because both the Papacy and the United States are republics at heart.

Once elected, the Pope and the President have very similar jobs. When the Papacy was at the height of its power, the Pope ruled over people spread across a wide area. It is a land we call Europe today, but the people back then were content with calling it Christendom. This was not a unified land. There were many local kingdoms that were part of the wider whole, but could still be troublesome. There were always people who were trying to lift the Pope up, or bring him down, or simply ignore him altogether.

Today, the Pope rules over a wider and even more fractured populace. It consists of many people spread all over the world that are all vital parts of a wider entity. The idea of many becoming one sounds a lot like something I read on a coin somewhere. Maybe in Latin? And the troubles of serving as leader for an often divided whole sounds like a chapter from the President of the United States' Handbook.

Both the office of the Pope and the President of the United States grant the person holding it great influence and power. This, however, is not all it is cracked up to be. In order to hold the office, both are required to trade away their own independence and self-determination. The Pope and the President have lives of luxury, but the Papal Palace and the White House are really little more than gilded cages. They can provide their occupants with anything they want. Except for a quiet day when the entire world isn't watching their every move.

The Pope and the President are at once rulers of the people, but are also ruled by them. This cannot be an easy life. The job totally consumes the Pope. U.S. Presidents are usually more fortunate. They can have years left to enjoy an ample retirement when they leave the Oval Office, but they will never get back the color in their hair.

Then there is one last, superficial similarity. Both the Pope and the President have dedicated bodyguards who wear fancy costumes: the Swiss Guard in their clown suits and the "casual business attire" of the Secret Service. I wonder if the Swiss Guard also track down counterfeit relics?

Joe D. is a local writer. He enjoys living on the planet Earth, a source of unlimited inspiration. More of his writing can be found at www.sinisterbend.com.