What Congress Can Learn from the Cardinals

What Congress Can Learn from the Cardinals

REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

It is no secret that today’s Roman Catholic Church, beset by fiscal difficulties, bureaucratic infighting and accusations of sexual abuse, is deeply troubled.

It’s also no secret that today’s federal government – beset by fiscal difficulties, bureaucratic infighting and accusations of waste and abuse – is deeply troubled as well.

The Vatican could certainly use a dose of the transparency that the U.S. government provides, while U.S. lawmakers could learn how to do a real sequester – lock yourselves in a room until you come to an agreement. 

And here’s what Congress could also learn from the conclave of red-robed cardinals this week as they attempt to choose a new leader of the Church:

--The cardinals lay hands on the Holy Gospels and pray in Latin for divine intervention. Our political leaders could lay hands on the Constitution, give thanks to the founders for creating this great country, and remember why they were sent to Washington in the first place.

--The conclave’s master of ceremonies, Guido Marini, calls out with gravity, “Extra omnes” (“everyone out”), so that the cardinals can get down to the business at hand. Let’s have the U.S. House’s sergeant at arms, Paul D. Irving, similarly empty the chamber of all spectators so that our legislators can get to work.

--Instead of hearing a sermon from 87-year-old Maltese Cardinal Prosper Grech, who gently reminded the 115 cardinals of their responsibility to choose a wise leader, Congress could hear a sermon from 81-year-old Alan Simpson and 67-year-old Erskine Bowles, who would remind our political leaders why they should create a wise federal budget. Simpson might urge them, in his inimitable way, to “get rid of earmarks, waste, fraud and abuse, all foreign aid, Air Force One, and all congressional pensions. That’s just sparrow belch in the midst of the typhoon.”

Then, after our legislators have done all the hard work – after they’ve bumped heads, wrestled with the numbers, shouted down each other and spent too many hours cramped up behind closed doors wearing uncomfortable shoes and without their minions or the media to distract them – they could let us know that there’s an agreement on how the country is going to spend the taxes that are collected, otherwise known as an actual budget. They would then let us know in one clear, decisive, symbolic way that they have a deal.

The cardinals, starting on Wednesday, will vote four times a day until they choose “the man they believe to be the vicar of Christ on earth,” as Reuters reports. “As in medieval times, the cardinals will be banned from communicating with the outside world.” Until, that is, they send up a white puff of smoke to indicate they’ve chosen a new pope.

Then the world can celebrate.

In that same spirit, maybe the citizens of this country would like our own puff of white smoke when our elected officials – banned from communicating with the outside world, forced to deal with each other and forced to actually solve our nation’s problems – also let us know that we, too, have something in Washington to celebrate. 

We’ll take the puff of white smoke and a sane, rational, and real federal budget.

One can pray, anyway.