The death of Pope Leo X in 1513 caused great confusion, and Catholic apologists say that a ‘really religious pope’ followed him, that being the standard clerical propaganda to exalt the popes. From what information we have, ‘his election was bedeviled by international politics; things were made worse by the intrigues of the Medici family who had so steadily been advanced in the highest places of the Church by the late pope … another Medici pope could not be tolerated’¹. The Conclave gathered at a time when half of Germany was in Protestant revolt, and its nature is summarized by Catholic Professor F. H. Kraus in the Cambridge Modern History as, ‘a spectacle of the most disgraceful party struggles ever seen in the papacy’.
The Pope’s frank confession
The conflicts of greed reached a deadlock, and the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V (1500-58) intervened and appointed, in absentice, a new pope. He was Adrian of Utrecht, his viceroy in Spain, a Dutchman who could not speak the Italian language. He later entered Rome as Pope Adrian VI (1522-1523), promising reform in the Church, saying: ‘We, prelates and clergy, have gone astray from the right path, and for a long time there is none that have done good, no, no one’².
The burning effigy of Pope Leo X
His election was extremely unpopular in Rome, and the cardinals plundered the Vatican before the new pope arrived. Since it was standard procedure for Romans to drag statues of popes through the mud after their death, Pope Adrian VI witnessed the frenzied delight of the mob disparaging a statue of Pope Leo X. He also saw them burning an effigy of Leo X that they hung from the scaffolding around the construction site of the new St. Peter’s.
The ignored Papal Bull
He immediately issued a bull declaring the practice illegal, and, after looting his wine-cellar, the Roman citizens laughed him out of existence. From what information we have about him, it seems that he was ridiculed into hiding by the people, and lasted a little over a year as Pope. He died ‘with disappointment’ on 14th September, 1523, and the Roman populace gave vent to their hatred for the foreigner in a pasquinade ‘in a language that had not been heard since the days of Bernard of Clairvaux’ (d. 1153)³. His epitaph said; ‘Here lies Adrian VI, who thought nothing in his life more unfortunate than that he became pope’. The later Church frankly conceded that Pope Adrian VI, ‘was hated by all and loved by none’ (ibid), adding that, ‘however regarded, the Pontificate of the last non-Italian pope was only an episode’ (ibid), meaning that it was just another absurdity in the history of Christianity that the Holy See tries to conceal from the public.
¹ ‘The Popes, A Concise Biographical History’, Burns and Oates, Publishers to the Holy See, London, 1964, p. 330
² ‘Secrets of the Christian Fathers’, Bishop J. W. Sergerus, 1685; also, Dr. Pastor, IX, 134
³ ‘The Papacy’, George Weidenfeld and Nicolson Ltd, London, 1964, pp. 137-9