The Criminal History of the Papacy
Part 2 of
Extracted from Nexus Magazine
Volume 14, Number 2
(February - March 2007)
Many of the popes of the
13th to 16th centuries continued the criminal,
bloodthirsty and debauched lifestyles of their corrupt
predecessors and reached new depths of depravity that
the modern Church is keen to keep hidden.
We are still in the late 12th and early
13th centuries and now expand upon the life of Pope Innocent III
(1198-1216), whom many Catholics exalt above all others and regard
as one of the chief constructive forces in the development of
European civilization. When he was elected in 1198, he demanded an
oath of allegiance to himself, as pope, from the prefect, who
represented the Holy Roman Emperor, and the senators, who
represented the Roman people.
In that same year, he suppressed all
records of earlier Church history by establishing the Secret
Archives (Catholic Encyclopedia, xv, p. 287).
The Church admits:
"Unfortunately, only few of the records [of the Church] prior to the
year 1198 have been released"
(Encyclopaedia Biblica, Adam & Charles
Black, London, 1899).
This admission reveals that around twelve
hundred years of Christian history are hidden in the Vatican vaults
and therefore publicly unknown.
In order to curb the nobles, Innocent gave great power and wealth to
his brother, but this nepotism and his despotic conduct aroused
increasing anger and in 1203 the Romans flew to arms once more and
drove Innocent and his brother into the country. He at length
returned to Rome and heavily fortified the old Papal Palace.
He proceeded with all the ruthlessness
which is characteristic of "great popes", and he was indifferent to
the appalling bloodshed which he caused. At the Fourth Lateran
Council in April 1215, Innocent III condemned the Magna Carta and
demanded that the Jews wear distinctive dress. He also declared that
anybody caught reading the Bible would be stoned to death by
"soldiers of the Church militia" (Diderot's Encyclopedie, 1759).
But the main purpose of his Council was
to develop a plan to expand his military affairs, his intention
being ultimately to dominate all Europe a Weltherrschaft, in which
he intended to subject all kings and princes to the judgment of the
Dominic's "Catholic army" (Catholic Encyclopedia, v, p. 107) was
engaged in the annihilation of
the Cathars in southern France, and
Innocent needed an additional army for an intervention in Germany.
He asked his military adviser, Bishop Grosseteste (d. 1227), one of
the most judicious prelates of the age, where he could obtain more
papal troops, the advice being:
"from the Catholic population, the
followers of Christ, a body always incorporate with the Devil".
Encyclopedie, op. cit.; expanded upon in From St Francis to Dante,
G. G. Coulton, David Nutt, London, 1908 ed., p. 56)
From centuries of Christian history as
recorded by the Church itself, it is a simple matter to gather
together some fascinating clerical pronouncements, and this is one
example of what the papal hierarchy thought about its followers of
The pope's intrusion into Germany and, later, Constantinople ended
in disaster, and his only success was against the unarmed Cathars.
"It is no doubt for this reason that
historians have denied to him the title of 'the Great', which he
would otherwise seem to have deserved".
(The Popes: A Concise
Biographical History, Burns & Oates, Publishers to the Holy See,
London, 1964, p. 226; imprimatur, Georgius L. Craven).
At the age of fifty-five, Innocent was
"killed by the sword in the interests of the crusade [against the
Moors] which had been decided upon at the Lateran Council" (Catholic
Encyclopedia, viii, p. 16).
The words of Pope Gregory IX (1227-41; Ugolini di Conti, 1143–1241)
confirm the Church's suppressive attitude towards unorthodoxy, for
he commanded his clergy to instruct,
"the layman, when he hears any speak
ill of the Christian faith, to defend it not with words but with
the sword, which he should thrust into the other's belly as far
as it will go".
(Chronicles of the Crusades, G.
de Villehardouin, p. 148).
The Romans were so offended with Pope
Gregory's malice that he was expelled from the city three times in
seven years, and his death, greeted by wild rejoicing, let loose
throughout Christendom a flood of disdainful epithets and stories
In 1243, Sinisbaldo Fieschi (c. 1207-1254), a native of Genoa,
assumed the papal chair and the slaughters continued unabated.
called himself Innocent IV (1243-54) and,
"he surpassed all his predecessors
in the ferocity and unscrupulousness of his attacks"
(The Chronicle of Richard of San
Germano, xii, p. 507).
After the completion of the annihilation
of the Cathars, he turned the military attention of the Church onto
the family of the Holy Roman Emperor, Frederick II (1194-1250).
Frederick was fondly known as "the Wonder of the World" and he was
the last great ruler of the Hohenstaufen dynasty. His family opposed
the Catholic army, and Frederick and later his son Conrad spent
their lives locked in fierce battles with papal troops.
Frederick complained that the pope, whom he called "a dragon of a
poisonous race", aspired to be the feudal monarch of the whole of
Europe, and Frederick fought against the attempted papal takeover of
his vast estates.
Here is Church confirmation of its ongoing butchery, cited from the
"Pope Alexander IV (1254-61) ... was
easily led astray by the whisperings of flatterers, and inclined
to listen to the wicked suggestions of avaricious persons ... he
continued Innocent IV's policy of a war of extermination against
the progeny of Frederick II ... and the people rose against the
Holy See ... the unity of Christendom was a thing of the past."
(Catholic Encyclopedia, i, pp.
Image 1 (Above):
Pope Innocent III
wrote a revealing work called Registro,
in which he deals
extensively with the power of the Church to punish sins and sinners.
Within it, he
included this vivid illustration which shows a wolf in friar's
with a pronged weapon
demanding alms from a cloven-footed creature with a curled tail.
composite animal satirically represents
believers in Jesus
Christ whom the general populace called "pigs with crosses".
(From Ibn Jubayr, The Travels of Ibn Jubayr; © Archivio Segreto,
As for "unity", it is a relative term,
for within Christianity it never existed, nor does it exist to this
day. The people of the city of Rome supported the cause of
Frederick's family and turned out in arms, and once more a pope
hastily retreated to the provinces.
The story of the next four popes is almost entirely the record of
the struggle with Frederick's family - a struggle which at some
stages was so unjust, so patently inspired by sheer hatred and
greed, that it disgusted Christendom and disgusts every non-Catholic
Then, recorded in Church documents, is
one of the strangest pontificates in papal history:
"Ten days after the death of
Nicholas IV (1292), the twelve cardinals assembled in Rome but
two years and three months were to pass before they gave the
Church a pope."
(The Popes: A Concise
Biographical History, op. cit., p. 19)
The history of these peculiar elections
(now called conclaves) is sodden with corruption and is one of the
most amazing volumes in historical religious literature yet to be
fully revealed. However, in 1294, and for some obscure reason, the
weary cardinals agreed to make Pietro di Morrone (1215-1296) the new
pope, called Celestine V. Before and during the time of his
pontificate, he lived a hermit's life in a cave in the wild
mountains of Abruzzi, south of Rome, a fact that has proved
difficult for the modern-day Church to dismiss.
With Celestine, we see another of the Church's confessions of the
ignorance and uncritical simplicity of the papal office, extending
over fifteen hundred years of Christian history. The cardinals were
disquieted when the humble monk ordered them to come to his cave,
but they went and there they consecrated him as pope.
In one of our main reference sources, The Popes: A Concise
Biographical History, Celestine is described as a man of "limited
learning and completely lacking in experience of the world" (p.
However, in the pope's absence, the powerful machinery of the Church
Militant flourished under the management of the warrior-cardinal of
Ostia, Latino Malabranca, a man with extensive military experience (Diderot's
King Charles II of Naples, wanting papal favours, sent a deputation
to the cave to escort the pope to Naples to meet him. Celestine
arrived and created a daily public spectacle of conceding
extraordinary and unlimited privileges to Charles. The cardinals,
now realizing that the pope was "of disastrous simplicity", were
moved to demand his resignation (The Papacy, George Weidenfeld &
Nicolson Ltd, London, 1964, p. 87).
Chief among those who pressed him to abdicate was Benedetto Gaetani
(or Caetani) (1234-1303), a rich and robust prelate of great
ambition. It was widely believed that Gaetani had a speaking tube
put through the walls of the pope's room, and a "voice from heaven"
bade him resign. Celestine V was convinced that "God had spoken to
him" and he abdicated.
Then, in February 1296, Gaetani purchased the papacy from the
cardinals for 7,000 gold florins and became Pope Boniface VIII
(1294-1303). Celestine was immediately imprisoned in a grim castle
and was so brutally treated that he soon died.
A traitor to
In enriching his own family, the Gaetani - especially Pietro, a son
of very doubtful character - Boniface VIII entered into a bitter
quarrel with the Colonna, a powerful family responsible for
constantly driving the popes from Rome. When Stephen Cardinal
Colonna, the brother of James Cardinal Colonna, seized a cargo of
the pope's gold and silver destined for the Gaetani family, Boniface
VIII excommunicated the entire Colonna family and declared a crusade
The family replied with a manifesto in
which it accused Boniface VIII of acquiring the papacy by fraud and
appealed against him to the judgment of a General Council. Under
the leadership of one of his cardinals, Boniface's army destroyed
the property of the Colonna and scattered the family members all
In some chronicles, Boniface VIII is accused of intimacy with a
French countess. We cannot confirm this, but against the Catholic
report of his learning and goodness we put the undisputed fact that
his nepotism and simony were scandalous. So were his papal bulls,
which were designed to assert the absolute supremacy of his
Early in his seven-year papacy, in 1296
Boniface issued the first of two of the most famous bulls in
Christian history. Its tone recalled the papal thunderbolts of
Gregory VII (1073–85), and its opening words, Clericis laicos, gave
it a name. Its first sentence made a truthful admission and reveals
the moral ugliness within Christianity:
"Antiquity reports that
laymen are exceedingly hostile to the papacy, and our experience
certainly shows this to be true at present."
Distaste for the popes probably
reflected a secret doubt as to their claim of a divine origin to
their religion. This bull was aimed particularly at the king of
France, Philip IV, the grandson of St Louis, but failed to achieve
Then, on 18 November 1302, Boniface VIII
issued his iniquitous "Bull of Two Swords" (Unam Sanctam, "The One
Holy"), which formalized the framework of Christianity's core
structure for centuries to come. The pope's bulletin declared that
the Church controlled "two swords", that is, two powers:
"Both swords are in the power of the
Church, the spiritual and the temporal; the spiritual is wielded
in the Church by the hand of the clergy; the secular is exerted
for the Church by the hand of its military ... and the spiritual
power has the right to establish and guide the secular power,
and also to judge it when it does not act rightly...
Consequently, whoever opposes the two swords of the Church
opposes the law of God."
(Bull Unam Sanctam,
Boniface VIII, 18 November 1302; overview in Catholic
Encyclopedia, xv, p. 126)
The Church under Boniface VIII became a
worldly ruler and seized vast territories that it called the "States
of the Church".
It wasn't until 1870 that Italian patriot bayonets
finally recovered the stolen regions and restored them to a united
Italy. At that time the Italians, under Victor Emmanuel II, king of
Sardinia and Piedmont, took back Rome and the adjacent papal
territories and declared the Eternal City the capital of the newly
formed United Kingdom of Italy.
The Papal States, with 15,774 square
miles and three million taxpaying inhabitants, were thus removed
from the Vatican's investment portfolio and vanished forever from
the map of Europe and from history. The Church, with the exception
of 108 acres of the Vatican City, no longer had any ill-gained
Earthly European dominion to rule and its temporal sovereignty came
to an end.
But the story of Boniface VIII is not yet over. The article on him
in the Catholic Encyclopedia runs to nine pages, and these are nine
pages of uselessness with admissions of character faults but
desperate evasions of serious charges. However, early editions of
Encyclopaedia Britannica reveal the truth about this pope, and the
entry about him is written by Professor Rockwell, a distinguished
He explains the hostility towards the
pope by saying:
"Avarice, lofty claims and frequent
exhibitions of arrogance made him many foes; he was believed by
many to be in league with the Devil"
(Encyclopaedia Britannica, 3rd
It's interesting to note that after the
publication of the 11th edition in 1898, the Catholic Church
purchased Encyclopaedia Britannica and in a few short years new
editions devoid of "offending" material superseded earlier versions
that had now been ordered destroyed (History in the Encyclopedia, D.
H. Gordon and N. L. Torrey, New York, 1947; also, The Good News of
the Kingdoms, Norman Segal, Australia, 1995).
In due course, in 1943, Encyclopedia
Britannica was assigned to the Roman Catholic University in Chicago
(Encyclopedias: Their History Throughout the Ages, 1966, two
editions; the second edition pays particular attention to Encyclopaedia Britannica). In subsequent decades, Church
missionaries went door to door the world over selling the
Encyclopaedia Britannica into millions of unsuspecting households.
Persons in a position to compare earlier
editions with "under Church management" editions should do so for
personal confirmation that a new and fictitious Christian history
was written and published, omitting the previous damaging
information. Negative comments about Boniface VIII were some that
were deleted and other sentences modified, but Professor Rockwell's
name was retained.
The Cambridge Mediaeval History (eds Gwatkin and Whitney, The
Macmillan Co., 1911–13, vol. vii, p. 5), which records the general
sentiment or judgment of modern historians, says that,
seems conclusive that he [Boniface VIII] was doctrinally a skeptic
and concealed under the mitre the spirit of mockery".
King Philip IV of France, supported by
civilian lawyers concerned to exalt his authority against that of
the pope, opposed the Bull Unam Sanctam of Boniface VIII. He
summoned his Parliament in Paris and laid before it an impeachment
of the pope for heresy, simony and rapacity.
Boniface was specifically accused of,
"...wizardry, dealing with the
Devil, disbelief in Jesus Christ, declaring that sins of the
flesh were not sins, and causing the murder of Pope Celestine
and others. He had a certain 'idol' in which a 'diabolical
spirit' was enclosed whom he was in the habit of consulting; a
strange voice answered him"
(A History of the Popes, Dr
Joseph McCabe, C. A. Watts & Co, London, 1939).
In 1303, Pope Boniface VIII was seized
at Anagni, to where he had fled, and was delivered to Paris to be
tried. Sciarra Colonna and his embittered family were at the French
court and a General Council was convened at the University of Paris.
Before five archbishops, 22 bishops, many monks and friars, Boniface
VIII jeered habitually at religion and morals, and made this
"There was no Jesus Christ and the
Eucharist is just flour and water. Mary was no more a virgin
than my own mother, and there is no more harm in adultery than
in rubbing your hands together."
(A History of the Popes, McCabe,
He was transferred back to Rome with a
strong escort provided by the Orsini family, who feared papal troops
would attempt to free him. He was in so tempestuous a rage that
respectable chroniclers of the time say that he went insane and
That is improbable, but he died in
prison a month later in October 1303, probably of poisoning or
strangulation, not of "the shock of the brutal assault on him" as
the Church opines (The Popes: A Concise Biographical History, op.
cit., p. 239).
His enemies spread abroad a report that, in his last
moments, he had confessed his league with the demon and died with
flames issuing from his mouth.
Image 2 (Above):
The battlements in
the background are the remains of the fortress Palace of the Popes
built during the
reigns of Benedict XII and Clement VI.
It securely housed
the papal court and administrative centre until 1377.
The extravagances and
the fiscal system of the papal court were severely criticized by
Popes banished from
The havoc and scandal leading to and resulting from the internal and
external papal wars, the blood, terror and viciousness, and the
unspeakably debased social conditions which made it all possible in
the name of Christ can be but faintly imagined.
The unpopularity of the popes was such that over the centuries many
of them were murdered or driven from Rome by mobs or imperial
enemies. For a total period exceeding 240 years between 1119 and
1445, popes were regularly and forcibly evicted from Rome, reigning
variously in Avignon, Anagni, Orvieto, Viterbo, Siena, Florence,
Pisa and Perugia.
As early as 1119, for example, the locals revolted against Pope Gelasius II (1118–19), who fled to Gaeta in southern Italy by rowing
down the River Tiber in a dinghy. As he escaped, the angry crowd ran
along the river's edge, hurling stones, arrows and foul abuse at the
rapidly disappearing pope.
Similarly, Pope Gregory VIII (1187) was so hated for his crime of
blinding his opponents (as was Pope Adrian III, 884-85) that the
locals tied him backwards on a camel and paraded him through the
streets of Rome, screaming vulgarities at him and pelting him with
rocks until he was dead (Diderot's Encyclopedie).
To avoid impending charges of murder, Pope Calixtus II (1119-24)
desecrated the alleged tomb of St Peter and fled to Constantinople
with "silver panels from the doors", "thick plates of gold" that had
covered the altars and "a solid gold statue" (A History of the
Popes, McCabe, op. cit.).
The last recorded pope to be evicted from Rome was Eugenius IV
(1431–47), who spent most of his nine-year exile living in the
brothels of Naples (Diderot's Encyclopedie).
In 1309, under the papacy of Clement V (1305-14; Bertrand de Got,
1264-1314), the Romans expressed so much displeasure at papal
criminality that the whole Christian bureaucracy was physically
evicted from Rome to the city of Avignon in southern France. It was
there that the popes resided permanently for seven decades until
1377, in palaces built behind stone fortifications, where they
created a complicated bureaucratic administration.
In Jewish circles the expulsion was
called "the Babylonian captivity of the popes", and the mounting
resentment against the papacy that flooded Europe was justified.
Famous Italian scholar and statesman Francesco Petrarch (1304-74)
lived for years on the outskirts of Avignon and compiled a mass of
detail about the papal lifestyle that fell under his observation. He
left one of the most amazing pictures of Church sordidness that is
to be found in any literature available on the Christian religion.
He was the greatest intellectual writer of his age, and powerful
sovereigns of the day competed for his presence at imperial courts.
In his book Letters without a Title,
Petrarch described the papal court at Avignon as,
"boiling, seething, obscene,
terrible ... a fountain of dolour where Jesus Christ is mocked,
where sesterce [money] is adored, where honesty is called
foolishness and cunning called wisdom ... all this you may see
heaped up there"
(Letter Var. VII).
He said that Avignon surpassed in vice
any city of antiquity, and no one knew mediaeval life and literature
better than Petrarch. He gives details of the obscene gaiety of life
in the papal court that "raged like a moral pestilence ... a school
of falsity, and a temple of heresy" (Letter Misc. XVIII).
A friend of the Colonnas, Petrarch was invited to address the Senate
in Rome, and on Easter Sunday 1341 he arrived in the capitol clad in
the robes of his friend and admirer, King Robert of Naples. There he
delivered a powerful indictment against the Avignon popes and their
cardinals, saying, in summary, that they were,
"... swept along in a flood of the
most obscene pleasure, an incredible storm of debauch, the most
horrible and unprecedented shipwreck of chastity. The attachment
of the popes to Avignon is due to the fact that they have built
there, as it were, a paradise of pleasure, a celestial
habitation in which they dwell without a god as if they were to
continue to dwell there forever"
The sybaritic Pope Clement VI (Pierre
Roger, 1291–1352; pope 1342–52) purchased Avignon from the queen of
Naples and made his Palace of the Popes one of the most brilliant in
Europe, a glamorous court where papal relatives and guests were
constantly entertained with balls, banquets and tournaments.
Petrarch's judgment of Clement was exceedingly severe. He had had
both personal and epistolary relations with Clement, and Petrarch, a
realist when he chose to be, described the pope thus:
"...foul with indulgences, bald,
red-faced, with fat haunches, half-covered by his scanty
gown bent not so much by age as by hypocrisy. Impressive not by
eloquence, but by a frowning silence, he traverses the halls of
the whores, overthrowing the humble and trampling on justice."
(Petrarch, Letters without
a Title (Epistolae sine nomine), University Press, USA, 1969,
Letter Misc. VII, p. 98)
Petrarch added that Clement VI
occasionally rode around the city,
"...not in the midst of a marvelling crowd, but to insults and sneers ... he is the head of
pompous processions, mounted on a white horse, feigning holiness.
Before him goes his staff dressed in bright attire, making gestures
to attract attention, trumpets sounding and banners fluttering in
Petrarch speaks of the inordinate amount of time and
effort Clement VI spent preparing for his parades, and "on his horse
he was in constant fear lest the wind should disarrange his perfumed
garb" (Letter Var. XV).
The "best" pope of the Avignon period,
by Catholic standards, was Jacques Fournier (c. 1285–1342) who, at
his coronation in the Dominican priory at Avignon on 8 January 1335,
took the name Benedict XII (1334-42). There were, however,
contemporaries such as Bishop Mollet, the learned Catholic historian
of the Avignon popes, who regarded him as "a Nero, death to the
laity, a viper to the clergy, a liar and a drunkard" (A History of
the Popes, McCabe, op. cit., p. 115).
Bishop Mollet admits that Benedict XII
drank heavily, but according to the gospels so did Jesus Christ
(Matthew 11:19; Luke 7:34). Some writers say that it was this pope
who gave rise to the popular saying "drunk as a pope", and that his
harshness and arrogance narrowly restricted what influence for good
It was at Avignon that a series of forged documents was produced,
today called the False Isidorian Decretals. In that fraud, popes and
their associates compiled a series of fictitious letters, back-dated
them to earlier centuries and wove them around a series of "official
laws" that made the Church the absolute master of all Europe, Asia
Minor and Egypt. Voltaire (1694-1778) termed the Isidorian Decretals
"the boldest and most magnificent forgery that ever deceived the
Then there were the remarkable and
immense Pseudo-Areopagite Forgeries and the bitter persistence of
the papacy in clinging to them after exposure. Since this is not a
history of the Roman Church but of the popes, we will leave the
subject of fake Catholic documents for another time.
withdraws its support for Christianity
We now move forward a few decades with some remarkable information
drawn from the De schismate of Dietrich von Nieheim (c. 1338-1418),
a contemporary German lawyer of high character who was in the papal
service for some decades. Dietrich witnessed the outrages he writes
about, and he describes a pontificate that the Church admits was
"one of the most disastrous in papal history" (The Popes: A Concise
Biographical History, op. cit., p. 275).
This was that of Bartolomeo Prignano
(1318-1389), who became Pope Urban VI in 1378 and reigned until his
death in 1389. Writing with strictly Christian sentiment, the Church
said that he was "pious, but very vigorous" (ibid.).
Immediately upon his election, Urban VI hired a troop of fierce
mercenary soldiers, who were then commonplace, and drove his rivals
into the country. Before setting out to recover the papal
possessions in the south, he sold the sacred vessels of the Roman
churches which he had promised to his sons and daughters. He reaped
a rich harvest by confiscating property from the wealthy nobles and
creating saleable offices for an additional 37 bishops.
Charles III, the king of Naples, was
disgusted and sent an army to attack him, but Urban escaped over the
rear wall of the Papal Palace. When he returned, the cardinals, who
had discussed among themselves a plan to depose him, begged him to
check his indecent displays of temper. However, Urban imprisoned six
of them in the papal dungeons and had them tortured.
Dietrich von Nieheim was there, and he describes how the pope read
his breviary in a loud voice to drown out their moans, while his son
jeered at the victims. After a time, the pope escaped with his
prisoners in chains and fled by sea to Genoa. Only one of the
cardinals, Englishman Adam Easton, was ever heard of again, and few
doubt that the pope had the others killed. Flitting from town to
town, his son's vices causing him to be repeatedly expelled, Urban
VI attempted to raise money for a crusade against Naples but in 1389
died of poisoning, another thoroughly disreputable pope.
Pietro Tomacelli (1356-1404) then seized the papacy as the "kindly
and tactful" Boniface IX (1389-1404) and whipped up the trade in
sacred offices until the papal bureau looked like a stock exchange
(The Popes, op. cit. p. 278). The pope's agents now sold not simply
a vacant benefice but the "expectation" of one, so that staff
watched the age and health of incumbents--and if, when an
expectation was sold, another priest offered a larger sum for it,
the pope declared that the first priest had cheated him and sold it
to the second.
Dietrich von Nieheim says that he saw
the same benefice sold several times in one week, and that the pope
talked business with his secretaries during Mass. The city cursed
him and was in wild disorder.
In 1400, Boniface IX announced a jubilee, and pilgrims, mindful of
the recent horrors of the Black Death and knowing that journeying
was fraught with peril, made their way to Rome in the course of the
year. Conditions in Rome itself were bad, and the pitiably
impoverished inhabitants were making the most of their opportunities
to rape, murder and rob the pilgrims.
Boniface IX was succeeded in 1404 by the "gentle and virtuous"
Innocent VII (Cosmo Migliorati, 1336-1406) (Catholic Encyclopedia,
vii, 1910, p. 19).
He maintained the 16-year-old scandal of
the Western Schism created by the existence of multiple popes, and
bitterly opposed his rivals. He enriched his relatives, who were so
insufferable that Rome expelled them and the pope with the customary
In the meantime, the French cardinals had elected Benedict XIII
(Pedro de Luna, 1328-1423) as a successor to Clement VII, but with
the condition to fulfill, which he promised under oath, that he would
make every effort to end the schism between him and his rival,
Angelo Corraro (also Cortarrio or Corrarrio) (1336-1417), who became
Pope Gregory XII in 1406.
A schism, in the language of theology
and canon law, is the rupture of ecclesiastical union and unity and,
as pope, Benedict XIII refused to take a single step toward such
unity. He took refuge in Avignon, and all France demanded his
abdication. He then had to defend the Avignon palace against an
attack by the French army, yet the greedy and vindictive Spaniard
clung to his papal rags for more than 20 years while all Europe
It was Pope Benedict XIII who took the
extraordinary step of seeking out and destroying all copies of two
second-century books that contained "the true name of Jesus Christ"
(Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1797, "Jesus Christ" entry). He created
four new cardinals specifically to single out for condemnation the
secret Latin treatise called Mar Yesu, and then issued instructions
for all copies of the mysterious Book of Elxai to be destroyed.
On 21 May 1408, King Charles VI of France (1368-1422) published a
decree withdrawing the French Catholic Church and all French
citizens from obedience to Pope Benedict XIII. He nullified his
country's support for Christianity and declared France religiously
neutral - a decision that was upheld until a Frenchman was elected
pope years later.
At that time, Benedict XIII and Gregory XII were two legal but
conflicting popes in a war of ambitions, and each believed that he
alone should be the "only pope". Benedict XIII had earlier caused a
scandal by his merciless taxation of the clergy of France and Spain,
and a national Church Council voted against his unpopular decisions.
It was now clear to all parties involved that in spite of his
pre-election promise to resign as pope in the interests of the
schism between his rival, he was determined to oust his opponent in
Rome and maintain his position at all costs.
While he and his troops were making
their way to Rome, he learned by messenger of a legally elected
third pope, Alexander V (1409-10). It is not known what Benedict
XIII and Gregory XII thought of this development, but the Roman
people greeted the news with dismay. Christianity now had three
lawful popes, each with an army and each bitter rivals.
Catholic Encyclopedia bear clerical witness:
"The Great Schism (1378-1417) rent
the Church. As cardinal he [Alexander V] had sanctioned the
agreement of the rival Colleges of Cardinals to join in a common
effort for unity. He thus incurred the displeasure of Gregory
XII, who tried to depose him.
At the Council of Pisa (1409) he
[Alexander V] preached the opening sermon, a scathing
condemnation of his rival popes, and presided at the
deliberations of the theologians who declared those popes
heretics and schismatics ... in the rival Catholic world ... his
legitimacy was questioned, and the Christian world was chagrined
to find that instead of two popes it again had three."
(Catholic Encyclopedia, i, pp.
Alexander V died suddenly of suspected
poisoning in 1410, and the Italian cardinals elected the Pisan Baldassare Cossa (c. 1370-1419) to replace him. He called himself
Pope John XXIII (1410-1415) [not to be confused with Pope John
XXIII, 1958-63; see next section], and to date he was the most
corrupt man to have worn the tiara.
The vices of Cardinal Cossa, who had
bribed electors, were well known to the cardinals and all of Italy,
and nothing could show more plainly than this election the depth to
which the papacy had sunk. Whether he was the son of an Italian
pirate, as Dietrich says, we need not stop to consider. For 15 years
he had been the head of the popes' corrupt financial system and had
led papal troops and mercenaries with all the ferocity and looseness
of commanders of that age.
Dietrich adds that, as papal legate at
Bologna, Cossa had exacted a personal commission from gamblers and
prostitutes. On these matters, it is enough to say that the
cardinals who elected him were, like all Europeans, aware of his
reputation, and we remain content with the official ecclesiastical
description of his character.
a Church council
After contemplating the disgusting spectacle of three greedy popes
for four years, prelates and leading laymen of the Church persuaded
Emperor Sigismund to convoke and preside at a Church General Council
at Constance in 1414. It was an uncanny four-year event that defied
understanding, and "the incontinence practiced by the churchmen
demoralized the city in which it was convened" (Samuel Edgar's The
Variations of Popery, London, 1838, 2nd ed., p. 533).
The priests employed 1,500 prostitutes,
whom they called "vagrant strumpets" (ibid.), who refreshed them of
an evening after their days of arguing in the Council. The
sacerdotal fornicators, it seemed, were very liberal with their
favors to the professional ladies. One courtesan, it is said,
gained 800 florins, an immense sum in those days. She was treated
very differently from John Huss (Jan Hus) and Jerome of Prague. The
reverend debauchees enriched the prostitute and burned the reformers
at the stake.
After hearing witnesses, the Council drew up a long indictment
against John XXIII which ran to 54 Articles, and may be read in any
collection of Church Council records available. He was later charged
with rape, adultery, incest, sodomy and the murder of Pope Alexander
V. After a brief trial he was found guilty, deposed, imprisoned and
strangled. The Romans pelted mud and stones at his coffin when it
was brought to Rome. There was no public funeral. Gossip of
the day had it that during his legation he seduced 200 women and a
similar number of men.
In modern times, in 1958, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli (1881-1963) assumed the papacy and for some reason adopted
the same title as the first John XXIII. Vatican historians then set
out to remove from its official records all references to the
original John XXIII, but they were not completely successful, as
papal lists then in publication were soon to come into the public
After two years of wrangling, the cardinals elected Odo Colonna
(1368-1431) as Pope Martin V (1417-31), and he and each of his
successors made solemn oaths to reform the papacy and the Church,
but in fact they sank deeper into the mire. The popes who had
preceded Martin V had done so little for the betterment of the city
of Rome that when Martin returned in 1420 after a long exile imposed
on him for legalizing and protecting the abuses of the Curia, he
found cows still grazing in its streets.
Martin was so infuriated when he learned that Oxford professor John
Wycliffe (c. 1324-1384), some five decades earlier, had translated
the Bible into English that in 1427 he had the theologian's bones
dug up, crushed and scattered in the River Swift. This was 43 years
after Wycliffe's death, and the pope's actions reflect the vagaries
of an unbalanced mind, hardly compatible with sanity.
During those "centuries of cultural darkness, the papal court was
more depraved than at any period of the Dark Ages"
Encyclopedia, Pecci ed., ii, p. 337), and the Church hoped that
Catholics, "looked forward to the time when the
religious orders, whose laxity had been occasioned in great
measure by the general looseness of the times, would be restored
to some sort of discipline"
(Catholic Encyclopedia, i, pp.
Christian writers regard the 15th and
16th centuries as decadent, but few of them give their readers even
a faint idea of the flagrancy of vice, the deliberate corruption of
monasteries, the vast spread and public encouragement of
prostitution, the indecency of the numerous communal baths, the
fiendish cruelty which persisted in spite of the efflorescence of
art, and the cynical growth of treachery and lying in international
Dr. Ludwig Pastor (1854-1928), a sincere
German historian of the papacy, almost alone among Catholic
historians is candid. He says that,
"the prevailing immorality in
Church orders exceeded anything that has been witnessed since the
tenth century" and that "wanton cruelty and vindictiveness went hand
in hand with immorality"
(A History of the Popes, op. cit., chapter
1, p. 97).
The epoch that occupies us is, without doubt, one of the strangest
in Church history, one in which we meet with the greatest amount of
crime and decadence.
The Church says that a period of,
"decline followed after the middle
of the thirteenth century, when war and rapine did much injury
... the Church suffered again in the fifteenth and sixteenth
centuries from the prevailing social disturbances"
(Catholic Encyclopedia, i, p.
Speaking of moral conditions current in
the age, the Vatican summarizes its position in the time of Pope
Sixtus IV (1471-84):
"His dominating passion was
nepotism, heaping riches and favors on his unworthy relatives.
His nephew, the Cardinal Rafael Riario, plotted to overthrow the
Medici; the pope was cognizant of the plot, though probably not
of the intention to assassinate, and even laid Florence under an
interdict because it rose in fury against the conspirators and
brutal murderers of Giuliano dei Medici.
Henceforth, until the Reformation,
the secular interests of the papacy were of paramount
importance. The attitude of Pope Sixtus IV towards the
conspiracy of the Pazzi, his wars and treachery, his promotion
to the highest offices in the Church of undesirable people are
blots upon his career. Nevertheless, there is a praiseworthy
side to his pontificate. He took measures to suppress abuses in
the Inquisition, vigorously opposed the Waldenses, and annulled
the decrees of the Council of Constance."
(Catholic Encyclopedia, xiv, pp.
One probable reason for Sixtus's
negation of the rulings of the Council of Constance is that the
gathering decreed that a woman, Joan Anglicus VIII, officially
occupied the papal chair for two years in the ninth century
(855-58). Unlike Marozia, who ruled the papacy for several decades
in the 10th century, Joan was formally elected pope, and thus in
Catholic eyes was a legitimate successor of St Peter.
Her story entered the mediaeval
historical record in Thomas de Elmham's Official List of Popes which
"AD 855, Joannes. This does not
count; she was a woman."
Sixtus IV drafted plans for the
nunneries to become "brothels filled with the choicest prostitutes,
lean with fasting, but full of lust" (A History of the Popes, op.
cit.; also similar descriptions of the nunneries centuries earlier
are in the Annals of Hildesheim, c. 890).
About this juncture, and after a thousand years of bewildering
Church history, the protests of Christendom swelled steadily and
then broke into the Protestant Reformation, a religious revolution
by force and arms. An apologetic overview of the debauchery of
Church morals and minds which made possible this major restructuring
of Catholicism is affirmed in the Catholic Encyclopedia:
"Churchmen in high places were
constantly unmindful of truth, justice, purity, self-denial;
many were unworthy and had lost all sense of Christian ideals;
not a few were deeply stained by pagan vices; most were common
In the years of Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (Pope Pius
II, 1458-64), Giovanni Battista Cibo (Pope Innocent VIII,
1484-1492), the career of Rodrigo Borgia (Alexander VI,
1492-1503), the life of Alexander [Alessandro] Farnese,
afterwards Paul III (1534–49), until he was compelled to reform
himself as well as the Curia, the pontiffs showed disregard for
the most elementary human virtues."
(Catholic Encyclopedia, i, 109,
Pecci ed.; also, xii, 767, passim)
Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini, Giovanni
Battista Cibo and Rodrigo Borgia are three men worthy of further
When Piccolomini became Pope Pius II in 1458, he tried to suppress
all knowledge of his earlier career as a thief and housebreaker.
Image 3 (Above):
This 1459 German
woodcut shows Pope Pius II as a young man wearing a balaclava and
breaking into a house.
It was widely
distributed in Rome by anti-papal groups,
and after its release
Protestants used the hype to ridicule the feigned holiness of the
(© Ancient Documents,
However, he was unsuccessful:
broadsheets depicting his activities were in wide circulation.
After Cibo blatantly bought the votes of cardinals to become Pope
Innocent VIII in 1484, he rewarded those who supported him with
immense wealth, splendour and glory. As pope, however, Cibo's only
interests were women and sex. The Vatican became an establishment
overrun by his vast progeny of more than 100 illegitimate children,
and the cost of maintaining his women, sons, daughters and
grandchildren was enormous.
"To the open scandals caused by the
pope's morals and policies, the advancement of his bastard
children [particularly Franceschetto] and his collaboration with
the heathen [women] ... were added the results of corruption in
(The Popes: A Concise
Biographical History, op. cit., pp. 302-04).
The contemporary Italian Church
historian Valore related that, through gross self-indulgence,
Innocent VIII grew immensely fat and by the spring of 1492 had
"a mass of flesh incapable of
assimilating any nourishment but a few drops of milk from a
young woman's breast"
(Historia Ecclesiastica, MS 151,
The orgy in the
Upon the death of Innocent VIII, and after 14 days of wrangling and
intrigue by the cardinals, Rodrigo Borgia (1431-1503) was elected
Pope Alexander VI. During the time of the conclave, armed factions
called "squadrons" murdered more than 200 people on the streets of
Rome. The splinter groups were angered because Borgia, who had
amassed immense wealth, had paid out heavy bribes to the electors
before the commencement of the conclave.
Eleven cardinals sold their votes to him
(Diarium of Burchard, appendix to vol. iii) and the Church supports
"That Borgia secured his election by
the rankest simony is a fact too well authenticated to admit a
(Catholic Encyclopedia, Pecci
ed., ii, p. 309).
When proceeding to the Lateran Palace
after consecration in St Peter's, he passed under a triumphal arch
which bore the motto erected by his supporters:
"Caesar was a man; this is a god".
Rodrigo was a member of the infamous
Borgia family who derived their prominence and power from Italian
politics. His Spanish origins were a factor in his election, since
the cardinals wished to avoid electing a Frenchman. He served five
earlier popes in the post of vice-chancellor, and his election
vacated a large number of lucrative offices and preferments which he
promised to those who undertook to vote for him.
As early as 1460, when he was cardinal
and papal legate, he had been reported to Pius II (1458-62) for
holding obscene dances with naked ladies in a garden at Siena, and
he continued to enjoy such spectacles until the end of his life. His
pontificate provided one of the gravest scandals in the Vatican
since the Reign of the Whores, and the parade of his sexual
was maintained with little or no concealment.
It is from the diary of German chaplain
Johann Burchard, Pope Alexander VI's master of ceremonies, that we
learn the most about the character of this Borgia pope. Burchard
personally witnessed Alexander's debauchery and wrote the famous
comment saying that "the pope's Christianity was a pretence" (Diarium
Image 4 (Above):
Alexander VI, "...
the Borgia pope under whom the Renaissance papacy reached its lowest
level of corruption"
(The Papacy, George
Weidenfeld & Nicolson Ltd, London, 1964, p. 107).
This is a detail from
a fresco by Italian painter Bernardino Pinturicchio (d. 1513) in the
Borgia apartment of the Vatican.
Like many Renaissance
delighted in concealing veiled information in the background of his
and in this work he
subtly depicts a scantily dressed lady in the top left corner,
looking over her
shoulder at the pope.
Maybe she is meant to
represent Lucrezia, Alexander's daughter.
(© Library of the
Alexander VI was so notoriously infamous and his history so large
and well known that he has proved a great embarrassment to the
modern Church vainly trying to portray a pious papal past. He has a
unique record among the popes for the public prominence of his
illegitimate children and the blatancy of his amours in the "Sacred
With his 12 bastard children (Collins
Dictionary), including Cesare, Giovanni (Juan), Lucrezia and Jofre,
and his numerous mistresses, the "Vatican was again a brothel" (The
Records of Rome, 1868, British Library) and his debauched papal
court was compared to the ancient "fleshpots" of Caesarea in which
St Augustine (d. 430) revelled. Alexander VI was a sexual pervert,
and lurid stories were bandied about by the intellectual underworld
Venetian Senator Sanuto wrote that the then Cardinal Borgia fancied
Rosa Vannozza dei Cattanei, the pretty young married daughter of his
chamberlain, whom Borgia paid to arrange a series of secret daytime
liaisons with her. As a result of this affair, Cesare Borgia
(1475-1507) was born, and the birth certificate acknowledges this.
In his teenage years, a bitter Cesare, in his father's presence,
stabbed the chamberlain, decapitated him and pierced his head on a
pole with an attached inscription saying:
"This is the head of my grandfather
who prostituted his daughter to the pope"
(A History of the Popes, op.
cit., Alexander VI chapter).
The evidence is serious.
It was claimed that Alexander VI had sex with Lucrezia (1480-1519),
his daughter by Rosa Vannozza dei Cattanei. One wit of Rome called
Lucrezia "the pope's daughter, wife and daughter-in-law", and he
reportedly fathered "nieces" with her (A History of the Popes,
ibid.). It is not worth serious enquiry here whether he had two or
three children with Lucrezia, as most acknowledge, but other aspects
of his conduct must be noted.
Cesare was Rodrigo Borgia's favourite son. When Cesare was only
seven, his father prepared his way to the College of Cardinals by
making him a bishop, from which he received a substantial income.
When Cesare was eighteen, his father, as Pope Alexander VI,
conferred cardinality upon him and later elevated him to commander
of the Vatican military in its efforts to extend the Papal States.
Cesare grew into a man of clear and powerful intellect and the pope
supported him until his death.
Rodrigo gravely abused his position as both a cardinal and the head
of the Church in establishing a scheme of family aggrandizement,
seen in the rapid advancement of the careers of his children Pedro
Luis (1468-88) (for whom he purchased the duchy of Gandía, the
Borgias' ancestral home in Valencia, Spain), Cesare, Giovanni (c.
1476-97) (the second Duke of Gandía) and Lucrezia.
Ambassadors speak of Cesare's introduction of multitudes of
beautiful courtesans into the Vatican for Alexander's sexual
pleasure in his later years.
Burchard gives us astonishing details
of one occasion in which the pope presided at an orgy in the Papal
"On Sunday evening, 30 October
, Don Cesare Borgia gave his father a supper in the
apostolic palace, with 50 decent prostitutes or courtesans in
bright garb in attendance, who after the meal danced with the
servants and others there, first fully dressed and then naked.
"Following the supper, lampstands holding lighted candles were
placed on the floor and chestnuts strewn about, which the
prostitutes, naked and on their hands and knees, had to pick up
with their mouths as they crawled in and out among the
"The Pope watched and admired their noble parts. The evening
ended with an obscene contest of these women, coupled with male
servants of the Vatican, for prizes which the Pope presented.
"Don Cesare, Donna Lucrezia and the Pope later each took a
partner of their liking for further dalliances."
(Diarium of Burchard)
Against this backdrop, and because of
his debauched lifestyle, Alexander VI could not escape the
satirists, pamphleteers and other wits who sold or distributed their
deadly epigrams to his opponents.
After the release in 1501 of a Latin-language broadsheet bearing an
illustration of Pope Alexander as the Devil and Antichrist, the city
of Rome shook with cynical laughter. This broadsheet speaks of
Alexander dabbling in black magic and other pagan rituals, of having
a Venus emblem inlaid in his personal emerald Christian cross and of
having an "offensive" painting of a naked Isis hanging in the papal
bedroom (Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters,
Sculptors and Architects, Milan, 1907 reprint).
At that time, witchcraft was an ecclesiastical rather than a civil
concern, and the documentation reveals that the pope's personal
beliefs were not that of Christian orthodoxy.
This remark, buried away in a collection of once-suppressed papal
pronouncements called Anecdota Ecclesiastica or "Secret Church
Histories" (Vienta, Paris, 1822 reprint of 1731 ed.) and confirmed
in Diderot's Encyclopedie reveals what Pope Alexander VI really
thought of Christianity:
"Almighty God! How long will this
superstitious sect of Christians, and this upstart invention,
We may set aside as negligible gossip
the charge of his enemies that Alexander VI made liberal use of
poison in his later years, for in serious academic history the claim
is reduced to only two disputed deaths.
But the cover-ups and support for the vile murders committed by
Cesare Borgia, "a coldly inhumane monster", argue for a totally
unprincipled character who made his name more malodorous than that
"That such accusations were made
against the Borgia pope and that they managed to survive,
together indicate the fear and hatred which he and his son
(The Popes, op. cit., p. 324).
In 1497, Cesare Borgia had his brother
Giovanni murdered out of jealousy, and in 1500 organized the murder
of Lucrezia's husband, Alfonso of Aragon, because he wanted her to
contract an alliance of greater political advantage.
"...was fished out of the Tiber with
his throat cut... [Alexander] took it as a warning from heaven
to repent, and no one felt it more keenly than the pope himself.
He spoke of resigning, and proclaimed his determination to set
about that reform of the Church 'in Head and members' for which
the world had so long been clamoring"
(Catholic Encyclopedia, xiv, 32,
But his grief was assuaged by the
attentions of his lady loves, notably pretty Guilia Farnese, the
fifteen-year-old sister of the "petticoat cardinal" Alessandro Farnese and whose picture as the Virgin Mary adorns one of the great
frescoes of the Vatican.
Her brother later became Pope Paul III, and we should not be
surprised to read in Burchard's Diarium that Guilia's daughter Laura
was fathered by Pope Alexander VI.
It was this same pope who had the ascetic Italian religious reformer
Girolamo Savonarola (1452-98) and his two Dominican disciples hanged
and then burned for "religious error" at Florence in May 1498.
Amidst his dissoluteness, however, Alexander was aware of the
"silent spread of suspicion in the intelligentsia, even in the
clergy themselves" about the validity of Christianity, and,
realizing that his institution could not afford to have its
credentials checked, he moved quickly to establish censorship of
damaging publications (Diarium of Burchard, op. cit.).
In 1501 he issued an edict ordering that no book discussing the
Christian religion be printed without the written approval of the
local archbishop or "bearing the personal permission and privilege
of the Pope" (Diarium of Burchard, ibid.). This was the beginning of
the Index of Prohibited Books, and the suppression of books
challenging Church dogma soon became official Vatican policy. It was
perhaps the most dramatic form of censorship known to the world, by
which the Church for centuries policed the literature available to
the public, and it maintained official sanction well into the 20th
Alexander VI died in 1503 and his infamous career came to a welcome
end. His passing was greeted with celebrations in the streets of
Rome; the papal doctor was sent gifts and was congratulated for
failing to keep the pope alive.
Soon after his death, his body became black and fetid, lending
colour to rumours that he was poisoned. (Historically, the Church of
Rome bears the heavy burden of the murder of up to 40 popes, many by
poison.) Undertakers and porters, "joking and blaspheming" says Burchard, had trouble forcing the swollen corpse into the coffin
built for it.
Gossip added that a little devil had been seen at the moment of
death, carrying Alexander's soul to hell. The Romans joked about
him, saying that had his mother foreseen the nature of the life her
son was to live she would have strangled him at birth.
The same could be said for the mother of the next pope, Julius II,
whose life and remarks make Christian historians squirm, for again
we find evidence of another disbelieving pope.
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