Rome: Replacing a Pope and Prime Minister
With the pope’s resignation and Italy’s inconclusive election, the world focuses on leadership changes that will affect 1 billion Catholics and the eurozone.
Perhaps 150,000 people gathered in St. Peter’s Square in Rome for Pope Benedict XVI’s final public audience Feb. 27. His historic resignation takes effect Feb. 28 (see “Pope Resigns” for more details).
The Vatican crowd gave him a standing ovation, and thousands have sent messages of thanks and best wishes—a positive send-off after a troubled nearly eight-year reign.
In his final address, the pope described the ups and downs of his tenure:
“I have felt like St. Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us many days of sunshine and gentle breeze, days in which the catch has been abundant; [then] there have been times when the seas were rough and the wind against us, as in the whole history of the Church it has ever been—and the Lord seemed to sleep” (New York Times).
Now it falls to a conclave of cardinals to choose the next pope, who is sure to face even more rough seas ahead. Speculation continues that an Italian may return to the office. (Benedict and his predecessor John Paul II have been the only non-Italian popes since 1523.)
But no matter who is chosen, the distinctly Roman nature of the Roman Catholic Church will continue. Church structures bear the marks of the Roman Empire to which it was wed by Emperor Constantine in the fourth century.
Interestingly, the conclave to choose the pope is not the only reason the world’s attention is on Rome at the moment. The inconclusive Italian election seems set to affect the economy of Europe—and the world.
Nothing funny about the Italian political sideshow
Europeans, weary of the recurring eurozone financial crisis, are watching the Italian election and its aftermath closely. They know political instability and poor leadership greatly affect the financial markets, and a further loss of confidence in Italy’s economy could send the eurozone into another tailspin.
The Guardian reported Feb. 27 that rating agency Moody’s warned that “it could downgrade the country’s credit rating if a government can’t be formed, or if its economic reform agenda now stalls. … Moody’s currently rates Italy just two notches above Junk status, at Baa2.”
No party in the election received enough votes to form a government, and the most likely choices for coalition partners have been bitterly at odds.
The austerity measures implemented by current Prime Minister Mario Monti, a technocrat supported by the EU, have not been popular. His party received just 10 percent of the vote. A quarter of Italian voters chose the new anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, led by former standup comic Beppe Grillo. Then there was the surprise comeback of Silvio Berlusconi, who was driven from power by scandals in November 2011.
Such unexpected twists have made Italy the brunt of jokes and international scorn.
“The sensitivity of Italians over widespread European incredulity at both the rise of Grillo and resurgence of Berlusconi was underlined when President Giorgio Napolitano cancelled a dinner with the German opposition candidate for chancellor after he called the two men ‘clowns’” (Reuters).
Of course, the European leadership has a vested interest in stability and continued austerity in Italy. Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, “has joined the ranks of Eurocrats warning Italy that they cannot avoid fiscal consolidation” (The Guardian).
He was quoted as saying, “As I have said before—and others like me—I believe that 2012 marked a turning point in the crisis in the eurozone—and that the worst is now hopefully behind us. But we should not become complacent—neither in Member States nor at the level of the European Union and the eurozone. There is no real alternative to keep up reforming our economies. There is no way back for any of our Member States.”
Was 2012 really the turning point, or will continued crises force European leaders into even closer union in order to prevent a total meltdown of the eurozone—which could take the world economy with it?
What kind of coalition will form to choose a new Italian prime minister, and what will the markets make of it? With Italian politics, you can almost expect the unexpected. It will be interesting to see who has the last laugh.
Keep watching Rome
Bible prophecy indicates that Rome will play an important role in end-time prophecies, both as a center of religious influence and as a symbol of a final revival of the Roman Empire.