ROME – Some years ago, veteran Italian journalist Massimo Franco wrote a book about US/Vatican relations called Imperi Paralleli (“Parallel Empires”), arguing that the intersection between Washington and Rome has driven a great deal of history over the last two centuries.

At the moment these parallel empires are intersecting again, each gripped by a maddeningly complicated legal drama.

In the US, it’s the Jan. 6 Committee, while in the Vatican it’s the “trial of the century,” featuring charges against a cardinal and nine other defendants for financial crimes. As fate would have it, both procedures held their first public hearing on the very same day – July 27, 2021, so we’re coming up on the one-year anniversary for each.

In some ways, the two exercises couldn’t be more different.

Most importantly, the Jan. 6 committee is partisan in the strictest sense of the term. It was created on a party line vote and it’s composed of seven Democrats and only two Republicans, both of whom have been censured by their own party for participating.

The Vatican trial, on the other hand, isn’t really “partisan” in the conventional sense, because financial reform is one of the few issues that actually unites conservatives and liberals in the Catholic Church.

Perhaps Catholic liberals may be more inclined to trust the trial because Pope Francis launched it, while conservatives may be more skeptical, but even that’s inexact. I know plenty of deeply conservative prelates who’d be delighted to see Italian Cardinal Angelo Becciu, the star defendant in the case, found guilty, since they associate him (fairly or not) with a corrupt “old guard” in the Vatican.

Here’s another dissimilarity: If the Republicans take control of the house after the midterm elections, the Jan. 6 committee probably will be dead as a doornail. With an estimated 200 more witnesses to be heard, the Vatican trial may not only outlive this papacy, but the next one.

Yet watching the two dramas play out simultaneously, there are nonetheless three striking parallels.

First, one has the impression that while the vicissitudes are of tremendous interest to an inside-the-beltway crowd, they haven’t galvanized broad public interest.

When the Jan.6 committee scheduled a prime time hearing last month, the broadcast drew about 20 million viewers, which is basically the same number of Americans who watch the news every night no matter what’s going on. CBS actually saw its prime-time numbers drop in comparison to a re-run of the sitcom “Young Sheldon” the week before.

Out of prime time, viewership essentially disappears.

As for the Vatican trial, news agencies continue to report on the latest developments. On Friday, the trial held its 24th hearing, with testimony coming from a defendant named Nicola Squillace, an Italian lawyer, who appeared to contradict other defendants who’ve claimed they didn’t know key details of the Vatican’s failed effort to buy a choice piece of London real estate.

However, those same news agencies will also tell you that such coverage is hardly lighting up the scoreboard in terms of traffic numbers or ratings.

The broad disinterest is likely for a similar reason, and it points to another parallel: Insiders may care about the details of such matters, but ordinary people just want the big picture – and, honestly, most of them feel they already know it.

Did Trump incite the Jan. 6 violence? Sure, most Americans probably would say, and the debate is over what to make of that. Some would say Trump was justified in trying to “stop the steal,” many others would say he subverted the constitution and ought to be held accountable.

Likewise, is there financial corruption in the Vatican? For most Catholics, that’s like asking if water is wet or if the sky’s blue – hardly something they need months of testimony and countless witnesses to prove.

Perhaps the most fundamental parallel, and one that also helps explain the yawns both procedures tend to generate, is that in both cases, there’s a sense that achieving justice isn’t the only iron in the fire.

With the Jan. 6 hearings, it seems clear that another key aim is to discredit Donald Trump and thereby to blunt the prospect of his return to power, either de facto as the Republican kingmaker right now or de jure with a new presidential bid in 2024.

In the case of the Vatican trial, it hasn’t escaped anyone’s notice that the failed $400 million land deal at the heart of the case was approved at every stage by Pope Francis’s most senior aides, yet none of them have been charged or even treated as suspects. (That’s with the exception of Becciu, but he was defenestrated by Francis before the trial even began.) Francis himself actually made some of the key decisions, including to pay off one of the Italian financiers involved rather than to pursue legal charges.

The impression is that while the trial may indeed document real wrongdoing, it’s also designed to make sure that higher-ups are insulated from the fallout.

None of this should be read as denigrating the careful, painstaking work of the investigators, prosecutors, members of Congress and judges in these two proceedings, most of whom doubtless are doing their very best to get to the truth. No doubt future historians will look back at both of these procedures as goldmines in terms of helping to document turbulent moments in the lifespans of these two parallel empires.

Yet despite best efforts and good intentions, many Americans, and many Catholics, can’t help looking at those procedures in part as political theatre, in which people are playing assigned roles leading to a pre-determined outcome – and, honestly, not particularly compelling theater at that.

If that’s how you see it, then maybe “Young Sheldon” really is the better choice after all. For me, frankly, I’d rather be watching baseball.