Very few Popes of the Catholic Church were saints. Far from being saints, many of them were remarkably depraved compared to the common layperson whom their religion promised to redeem from sinfulness.
It is not easy to combine worldly power and spiritual sanctity. Authentic spirituality is a highly personal affair though it can and does wield much power over other people. The power that Mahatma Gandhi wielded over many of his followers was spiritual to a great extent. The Buddha and Jesus also wielded spiritual powers. Unlike them, Gandhi did not become a god because of the time in which he lived. Like Jesus, however, he was martyred by his own truth.
The power that Jesus, Gandhi and others like them wield is quite different from the kind wielded by, say, Hitler or Osama bin Laden. It is the power of the truth they believed in and put into practice in their life. The power that Hitler and Osama possessed was political and hence worldly. The power that most religious leaders exercise even today is too earthly to be spiritual of any sort.
Spiritual power sees sin or evil as the enemy, while worldly power perceives certain communities of people as the enemies. The Jews were the enemies for Hitler. Non-Muslims, particularly the Western Christians, were Osama’s enemies.
Today, we have a lot of leaders who fight in the name of religions. None of them has any more spiritual authority than the depraved Popes of the Church. They are potential conquerors and actual killers. Their species is multiplying rapidly in our world. The recent communal disturbance that broke out in a small region of Assam and went on to grip many parts of India is a proof of the decadence of religion today. The divorce of religion from spirituality seems to be complete now.
Yet it is most likely that political parties with religious garbs will come to power in many countries including India in the days to come.
Religion is merely a means for covering up our vices, not for curing us of them.
What if a genuinely spiritual person were to emerge today? He or she would be eliminated – most probably by the priests if not by political leaders – even as Jesus was, even as Gandhi was. Why?
A genuinely spiritual person would hurt the vanity of the ordinary people who would rather take pride in their little acts of goodness like the weekly worship in a church or temple or mosque, donations for charity, or participation in an anti-corruption rally organised by an apparent do-gooder. Worse, a genuinely spiritual person would frighten the average believer with his/her inimitable goodness. [Cf. Bernard Shaw’s preface to Saint Joan]
It is far more advisable to be religious than virtuous! It has always been so. Ask the ghost of Socrates, if you don’t believe me.But there are genuinely virtuous people in this world. Quite many. They wisely choose to lead private lives.