2/05/2020

The Infallibility of Popes and Presidents

"In the lead-up to his impeachment trial, U.S. President Donald Trump, who excels at terrifying his own followers, has also shown himself equal to Pius’s claims of power. Last July, he declared that Article II of the Constitution gave him “the right to do whatever I want as president.” During the impeachment trial, his lawyers have made similar claims. Most notably, Alan Dershowitz asserted that “if a president does something which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.” Dershowitz has since scrambled to explain his remark, but it perfectly distills the ethos of the president and his enablers. 

Pius failed to stem the tide of change. When he died eight years later, the anti-clerical government of a unified Italy had made Rome its capital, confining Pius to the hundred acres of the Vatican. Yet the juridical powers he had assumed remained in force, frightening not just other European states, but even many devout Catholics. 

Among them was the English Catholic politician and historian Lord John Acton. Sitting in the spectator’s gallery to the First Council, Acton was filled with horror at Pius’s pretensions. Several years later, Acton he explained his reaction to a fellow historian, writing that he could never accept that we “are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favorable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility.”"