Rome. January 897. Pope Stephen VII commands that the corpse of his predecessor, Pope Formosus, be dug up and hauled into a papal court to stand trial. Pope Stephen has deacons adorn the disinterred body in papal robes, prop it up on a throne, and appoints one of the deacons to act as the voice of the inanimate accused.
Formosus was charged with having violated canon law, of having lied to the pope about his role in a Bulgarian uprising, and of having acted as a priest after having agreed to live forever as a layman.
At the trial (known to history as the Cadaver Synod), the corpse of Formosus was found guilty. Upon declaration of the finding, Pope Stephen commanded the deacons to strip the corpse of its papal vestments, sever three fingers of the right hand that Formosus had used in performing consecrations, and posthumously voided all the acts and rulings of Formosus.
Later, after having been buried in a public grave reserved for non-citizens, and as an act of ultimate humiliation, the body was ordered exhumed, laden with weights and cast in the Tiber River.
On Sunday, the Obama administration symbolically dug up the body of Anwar al-Awalaki and tried him for his crimes. Not in front of a court of law, but in the court of public opinion with the New York Times serving as the official court recorder.
In the article published Sunday, Mark Mazzetti, Charlie Savage, and Scott Shane begin by describing the assassination of Awlaki, an American citizen living in Yemen.
The trio label Awlaki as a “firebrand preacher, born in New Mexico, who had evolved from a peddler of Internet hatred to a senior operative in Al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen.” As in the case of Pope Formosus, Awlaki is unable to answer charges that he played such a role in the terrorist organization because he is dead. Undaunted by this seemingly insurmountable obstacle, President Obama in the role of Pope Stephen continues to lay out the evidence of the corpse’s guilt.
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