“If a man were to drop down from Heaven among us with sufficient power to cut to the root of abuses, to reform the administration, to send the priests to church and the Austrians to Vienna, to promulgate a civil code, make the country healthy, restore the plains to cultivation, encourage manufactures, give freedom to commerce, construct railways, secularize education, propagate modern ideas, and put us into a condition to bear comparison with the most enlightened countries in Europe, we would fall at his feet, and obey him as we do God. You are told that we are ungovernable. Give us but a prince capable of governing, and you shall see whether we will haggle about the conditions of power! Be he who he may, and come he whence he may, he shall be absolutely free to do what he chooses, so long as there is anything to be done. All we ask is, that when his task is accomplished, he shall let us share the power with him. Rest assured that even then we shall give him good measure. The Italians are accommodating, and are not ungrateful. But ask us not to support this everlasting, do-nothing, tormenting, ruinous dictatorship, which a succession of decrepit old men transmit from one to another. Nor do they even exercise it themselves; but each in his turn, too weak to govern, hastens to shift a burden which overpowers him, and delivers us, bound hand and foot, to the worst of his Cardinals!”
It is too true that the Popes do not themselves exercise their absolute power. If the White Pope, or the Holy Father, governed personally, we might hope, with a little aid from the imagination, that a miracle of grace would make him walk straight. He is rarely very capable or very highly educated: but as the statue of the Commendatore said, “He who is enlightened by Heaven wants no other light.” Unfortunately the White Pope transfers his political functions to a Red Pope, that is to say, an omnipotent and irresponsible Cardinal, under the name of a Secretary of State. This one man represents the sovereign within and without,—speaks for him, acts for him, replies to foreigners, commands his subjects, expresses the Pope’s will, and not unfrequently imposes his own upon him.
This second-hand dictator has the best reasons in the world for abusing his power. If he could hope to succeed his master, and wear the crown in his turn, he might set an example, or make a show, of all the virtues. But it is impossible for a Secretary of State to be elected Pope. Not only is custom opposed to it, but human nature forbids it. Never will the Cardinals in conclave assembled agree among one another to crown the man who has ruled them all during a reign. Old Lambruschini had taken all his measures to secure his election. There were very few Cardinals who had not promised him their voices, and yet it was Pius IX. who ascended the throne. The illustrious Consalvi, one of the great statesmen of our age, made the same attempt with as little success. After such instances it is clear that Cardinal Antonelli has no chance of attaining the tiara; and therefore no interest in doing good.