Paying For The Pope?: Pa. Government Seeks Taxpayer Funds For Costs Associated With Papal Visit

Unlike, say, the president of France, Pope Francis is not the head of just any country. Vatican City is, of course, the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church. As such, it is more of a religious center than it is a nation. After all, when one enters the Vatican, which is only 109 acres, one does not have to pass through a border check.

Pope Francis will visit the United States in September, with scheduled stops in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C. But as the date of his arrival draws nearer, it seems some localities are concerned about the costs associated with a papal visit – so they’re looking for a taxpayer bailout.

Middletown Township in Pennsylvania has preemptively declared a “state of emergency” for Francis’ trip to Philadelphia. Officials there claim making an official declaration will allow the town to get federal reimbursement for expenses that result from the visit.

Middletown Police Chief Joseph Bartorilla told the Bucks County Courier Times that one advantage of declaring a state of emergency is that it makes it more likely the township will be eligible for reimbursement from the federal government for police overtime and other expenses incurred resulting from” the pope’s appearance.

There is no doubt that Pope Francis will put a strain on the resources of any place he travels to, but this development in Middletown is troublesome from a church-state separation perspective. Government officials who ask for assistance to offset the costs associated with this trip will likely argue that they are hosting the head of a state, and any foreign dignitary touring this country would receive a security detail that could be paid for by the federal government.

But unlike, say, the president of France, Pope Francis is not the head of just any country. Vatican City is, of course, the seat of power for the Roman Catholic Church. As such, it is more of a religious center than it is a nation. After all, when one enters the Vatican, which is only 109 acres, one does not have to pass through a border check.     

As for the pope, he’s not merely a head of state. He is also the most powerful Catholic official in the world and is considered by many to be a representative of God on earth. That makes him a little different from any other world leader.

Given these facts, Middletown is effectively asking for U.S. taxpayers to bear the burden for some portion of a sectarian leader’s travel agenda. Unfortunately, taxpayer assistance for papal visits to the United States is nothing new. When Pope John Paul II came to America in 1987, all sorts of church-state violations popped up -- many of them in Miami. Among them:

Dade County, Fla., closed its schools on the day of a papal mass in Miami and may have leased school buses to transport people to the religious service; a 100-foot cross was put up for two weeks on state-owned land in Miami; and public employees in the city sold tickets to papal events. When all was said and done, $5.7 million in federal funds, plus $1.5 million in Florida state funds were spent on security.

The situation in Pennsylvania is very likely the beginning of possible constitutional problems associated with the pontiff’s visit. Americans United will be monitoring this situation, so stay tuned for updates.