The Papacy may seem to be a spiritual institution and its role may be seen to be purely limited to the administration of the Universal Catholic Church. In reality, the role of the Papacy in global politics has been prominent before, during and after the renaissance and now.
The Papacy is at the head of government and administration at the Vatican City, which enjoys a sovereign status and diplomatic representation worldwide.
It is known to be a moral voice on issues such as abortion, opposition to same sex marriage, opposition to dictatorial regimes, global poverty among other.
The strong demographic representation of catholic faithful throughout the world makes the Papacy a very strong institution. It is also known to be very wealthy and influential in global affairs. Although, it has no standing army, the Papacy is powerful and its opinion on any issue cannot be wished away.
The sudden resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, will certainly throw the Catholic Church back to the politics of selecting the next Pope and ensuring that the dust raised by the resignation of the incumbent pope is handled as conservatively as possible.
First, there will be issues of age and ideological disposition of the new Cardinal. There will be the issue of balance and representation in the Vatican and in the selection of the Papacy. During the cold war, the position of the Papacy was part of the cold war politics. During the formation of the United Nations, the issue of giving veto power to the Vatican was thrown up. The then Soviet President, Josef Stalin, opposed the idea on the grounds that the Vatican had no troops. The US and its western allies wanted a situation where they would use the veto power of the Vatican to outsmart the Soviet Union and its allies. The Vatican has an observer status at the United Nations.
The appointment of the former Pope John Paul 11 from Poland, was influenced by the ploy of the Western Union, to support the uprising in Poland which was aimed at weakening communist regimes in Eastern Europe.
The ploy worked as the opposition to communist regime strengthened and invariably, the entire communist regime in Europe collapsed. But the Pope almost lost his life. Pope Benedict XVI is the first German Pope to be elected in over 1,000 years and he was selected by the forces that were opposed to an Italian becoming a Pope in 2005.
There are many people who believe that it was those forces that opposed his emergence, that were behind the embarrassing leaks in the Vatican during his tenure as Pope. The issue now is whether the politics of Papacy will allow an African to emerge as a pope.