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The last newsletter No. 208 on "Is President Bush Converting to Catholicism?" generated an unusual volume of positive responses. Many appreciated my analisys of the new method of papal engagement with political powers, which consists in achieving political effectiveness through the charisma of moral persuasion, rather than through the normal instruments of political power.
We noted that President Bush has surrounded himself with Catholic intellectuals, advisers, speech writers, theologians, and politicians, who have influenced his domestic policies. It is evident that the Pope exercised his influence in the American political process through his Catholic thought-leaders.
The shift from a political to a pastoral model of the papacy has been gradual. After all the Vatican maintains diplomatic relationship with 172 countries and uses diplomatic channels to negotiate agreements favorable to the Catholic Church. But both John Paul II and Benedict XVI have deliberately adopted a dual strategy. On the one hand, they use the diplomatic corp to achieve whatever they can, but on the other hand they appeals directly to the people and political leaders arousing them to adopt Catholic beliefs and practices.
Good examples are the recent conversion to Catholicism of former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, the conversion of President Bush's brother, Jeb, former governor of Florida, and the possible conversion of President Bush himself to Catholicism.
I pointed out in my last newsletter that the future power of the papacy will lie in the charism of moral persuasion used by the pope to achieve political effectiveness. The political alliances that have plagued the papacy in the past, will no longer exist. The pope will engage with world powers with his own instruments of moral persuasion.
Adventist Reappraisal of the Prophetic Role of the Papacy
The evolution of the power of the papacy calls for a reappraisal of the Adventist understanding of the endtime prophetic role of the papacy. Our Adventist pioneers lived at a time when the Papacy was still a powerful political and religious power. Consequently the "wounding" of the beast of Revelation 13 was interpreted as a political event that took place in 1798 when Pope Pius VI was taken prisoner by the French General Berthier and the "healing of the wound," the 1929 Concordat that delimits and protects the Vatican State.
Looking back into the history of the papacy during the past century, it seem more logical to view the "wounding" of the papacy as a process that began with the imprisonment of Pius VI in 1798 and continued until the taking over of all the Papal States by Italian nationalists in 1870. The loss of the Papal States impacted the papacy far more than the temporary humiliation of Pius VI.
Similarly, the healing of the wound could be seen as a process that began in 1929 with the juridical delimitation of the Vatican State, but it has continued until our time with a revival of the power of the papacy. Such a revival, however, has taken place, not through political alliances as perceived by our pioneers, but through the pope's charisma of moral persuasion capable of being translated into political effectiveness.
In the light of recent developments, it would seem that the future power of the papacy will depend, not so much on the political backing of the USA government (as perceived by our pioneers), but on the capacity of the Pope to influence the political process and the thinking of the American people and other nations.