Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Some Popes Are Not Good Definers of Catholicism

Magazine article National Catholic Reporter

Some Popes Are Not Good Definers of Catholicism

Article excerpt

There are conservative Catholics who believe that the pope is the only one who can define what Catholicism means. Their judgment may concluded by their intense administration of the present pope. Some are speaking of him already as "John Paul the Great."

The seem to forget, however, that John Paul II one pope in a line of more than 260, and that one day his name, like the others, will be followed by a date of death or resignation or both. Another pope will follow him and then another and another.

The assert that the pope alone determines the meaning of Catholicism is to assert of principle. And it if is a principle, it must apply to all popes, not just to the current pope or past and future popes whom conservative Catholics happen to like. (One might call such an attitude "cafeteria papalism."

Five hundred years ago, the reigning pontiff was not a pope in the style of John Paul II, John Paul I, Paul VI, John XXIII or Pius XII (to mention the popes of my generation).

If one were to have visited Rome during January 1497, rather than 1997, the pope who seeking was the notorious Alexander VI.

Before his election to the papacy, Rodrigo de Borja (Borgia in Italian) was named a cardinal at age 25 by his uncle, Pope Callistus III. Cardinal de Borja lived an openly licentious life, fathering several children and amassing great wealth from his various ecclesiastical offices. When POpe Innocent VIII died in the summer of 1492, Cardinal de Borja was not regarded as a serious candidate. But he bribed several of the cardinal-electors and promised others special benefits if they would vote for him.

They did, and he was installed as Alexander VI. Historians note that his consuming passions as pope included gold, woman and advancing the interests of his family. He named his son, Cesare, at age 18, the bishop of several dioceses, including the wealthy Valencia diocese in Spain, and a year later appointed of the then current papal mistress.

Alexander VI probably died of poisoning, along with his son, Cesare. The speculation is that they were mistakenly given poison intended for the cardinal who was their host at dinner.

Even if relatively few popes were as personally corrupt as Alexander VI (John XII, elected at age 18 in 995, is surely a close second), there were more than a handful of others who could not conceivably be regarded as reliable guides to the meaning of Catholicism. …

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