Pope: The Most Powerful Man in History
Episode 2: The Resignation of Benedict XVI
CNN, first aired 3/18/18
I finally caught up with the second episode of this series via on-demand.
The title of this episode is deceptive. Yes, it begins with the unusual resignation of pope Benedict XVI aka Joseph Ratzinger in 2013, but the docudrama then explores several historical cases in which a pope resigned or was deposed due to nefarious circumstances
Case #1: His powerful Italian family used bribery to buy the papacy for nineteen-year-old, Benedict IX, in 1032. He was subsequently driven from Rome due to flagrant corruption, but managed to regroup and expel his successor, Sylvester III, and become pope again in 1045. But Sylvester III hung around on the fringes, still claiming to be the legitimate pope. Benedict IX then sold the office, but had second thoughts. When he attempted to regain the office from Gregory VI in 1047, Roman clergymen appealed to Henry, King of the Germans, who cleared Benedict IX, Sylvester III, and Gregory VI from the deck and installed his own pope, Clement II, who dutifully crowned Henry as Holy Roman Emperor.
Case #2: Peter the Hermit was elected pope Celestine V in 1294 because of his personal ascetic piety, but it became immediately clear that the “holy man” wasn’t cut out for the job of a cut-throat administrator. Cardinal Benedetto Caetani pressured him to resign and Celestine complied after only five months in office, clearing the way for the ambitious Caetani to become the next pope, Boniface VIII. The new pope kept his predecessor under lock and key until his death. Watching from the sidelines, King Philip IV of France was eager to acquire more power for himself and his country. He was able to depose Boniface VIII and move the official seat of the papacy from Rome to Avignon in France in 1309, where he installed a pope loyal to him, Clement V.
Case #3: Pope Gregory XI returned the papacy from Avignon to Rome in 1377, but his successor, Urban VI, was so cruel that a large group of cardinals fled back to Avignon and elected their own pope, Clement VII. A church council was called at Pisa in 1409, which deposed the popes of Rome and Avignon and elected a third pope. But the popes of Rome and Avignon would not yield. Another council was called in Constance, Germany, which deposed the three claimants and elected Pope Martin V in 1417. The Council of Constance is also notable for condemning reformer, Jan Hus, to death as a heretic. On a personal note, I was able to visit the council building in Constance in 2016 (photo below). For more on the largely-unheard-of “Western Schism” led by the competing popes, see here.
The above cases are just three examples of the rank corruption of the papacy throughout history. To its credulous membership, the Catholic church presents its “succession” of popes as the tranquil transfer of power from one pope to the next as guided by the Holy Spirit, but the historical reality was that the papal office was often secured by means of bribery, murder, and military force. CNN did an excellent job with this second episode and I recommend it highly.
Next episode: The Price of Progress