There is scarcely anything which strikes the mind of the researcher of Catholic history with greater surprise than the way the Vatican today celebrates the march of tyrants and usurpers through seas of blood to maintain the papal throne. The joyful applause with which the Vatican salutes the fortunes of centuries of popes causes most Catholics to go through life without hearing a word of reproach for any pope or member of the clergy, and this example is just one of dozens that can be cited.
Bribes for the papal miter
After the death of Pope John XIX in 1032, the papacy remained under the control of the Tusculani family until they had what they considered a ‘suitable son’ to succeed him, and with revolting cynicism, they put forward a boy aged 12-years for the papal throne. He was Grottaferrata Theofilatto (Theophylact, in some records), and in October 1032 his family won the murderous scramble for the wealth of the papacy. The chroniclers of the day state that the clergy and nobles were heavily bribed to elect the boy, and then assisted at the solemn farce of his consecration. He became Pope Benedict IX (1032-1044; 1047-1048), and with insolence, the Vatican described him as;
‘One of our more youthful popes who was unanimously elected by a special commission to the cheers of the delighted cardinals, who were all legitimately appointed and formal cognizance was taken. The cardinal- camerlengo made the announcement of a pope-elect about eight o’clock on the morning of the first day, and then the cardinals advanced and paid him his first obedience or homage (adoratio). After the conclave, certain honorary distinctions and pecuniary emoluments were awarded to the conclavists’.
(‘Catholic Encyclopedia’, Pecci Ed. Vol., iii, p. 255)
Upon reaching his 14th year, the chronicler-monk, Raoul Glaber, in his ‘History’, wrote that Pope Benedict IX had already surpassed in wantonness and profligacy of all who had preceded him. With his older brothers, the boy pope established a reign of terror, and by age twenty he had a record of vice and murder which amazed all Christendom, causing one think that at the age of twelve he could have hardly have been a little angel. His vicious life can only find parallel in that of the most debauched of the Roman emperors, Commodus and Caligula, being two that come to mind. The testimony to the Pope’s depravity showed his disinterest in religious matters, and his disrespect for an ascetic life was well known. Catholic historian, Bishop Benno of Placentia, is bolder than usual in his comments about the Church, and blatantly accused Pope Benedict IX of ‘many vile adulteries and murders’.
A pope some four decades or so later, Victor III (1086-1087), in his ‘Dialogues’ (Book iii), added to the list of Benedict IX’s horrors, saying;
‘He committed rapes, murders, and other unspeakable acts … he often had to leave Rome in a hurry … his life as pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable … they [his acts] were so horrible that I shudder to tell them’.
(‘The Lives of the Popes’, Vol. V (1910), p. 241. The chief contemporary authorities are Pope Victor III, in his ‘Dialogues’, Bk. III (Migne, Vol. XLIX, col. 1003); the monk Raoul Glaber, in his ‘History’, IV, I (Migne, Vol. CXLII); and Bishop Benno of Placentia, in his ‘Liber ad Amicum’ (Migne, Vol. CL., col. 817).
No writer of that or any later century differs from these in regard to Benedict’s IX’s morals. Reading these charges, we understand that the ‘Holy boy Father’ indulged unrestrainedly in natural and unnatural vice and extortion, and murdered anybody who opposed him. While trying to suppress his true age, the Holy See said this about him:
‘He was the worst pope since John XII … he was young, wholly secular in his outlook, immoral, cruel, and indifferent to spiritual things. The testimony to his depravity is … overwhelming’.
(‘The Popes, A Concise Biographical History’, Burns and Oates, Publishers to the Holy See, London, 1964, p. 175, passim)
He officially opened the doors of the Vatican to homosexuals and turned ‘the palace of the popes’ into an organized and profitable male brothel (‘Lives of the Popes’, Mann). His violent and licentious conduct provoked the Roman people into vehement action, and more than once they expelled him from the city. However, by means of the emperors or other powerful friends, he was as often restored. In January 1044, the Romans, shocked at his debaucheries, elected John of Sabine to surpass him under the name of Pope Sylvester III (1044-5). But Sylvester was quickly driven out of Rome by Benedict IX’s brothers and fled for his life into the Sabine hills. Then, the rebellious Bishop of Sabina bribed and detached Sylvester’s supporters, and he was duly consecrated Pope Sergius V. The Romans rallied against him, and drove him out of the city.
Benedict IX sells the papacy
The next phase in this stage of Catholic history, which no one disputes, is remarkable:
‘Finding himself at length an object of public abhorrence on account of his flagitious crimes, he [Benedict IX] sold the popedom to his successor Gregory VI [1045-1047], and took himself to a private life, rioting without control in all manner of un-cleanliness’.
(‘Galian’s History of the Church’)
Gregory VI (John Gratianus Graziano) was Benedict IX’s godfather, and he paid the massive sum of 2000 pounds weight of gold to purchase the papacy. What Benedict IX would do with the gold, they knew well. We have a letter in which St. Peter Damiani (1007-72), boisterously congratulates Gregory VI on this gross act of simony; and this at a time when every religious writer bemoaned the fact that simony was the greatest curse of the Church of Rome. However, the circumstances of Gregory VI’s ‘election’ had become widely known, and had been found repugnant to the general populous. They rose up against him, and the new pope found it necessary to reinstate order in Rome and elsewhere, and in doing so exhausted his remaining wealth in the hire of soldiers and the purchase of weapons.
An unprecedented situation
Then suddenly, in 1047, ex-pope Benedict IX reappeared and announced he was reclaiming the papacy. He had spent his gold in riotous living in a country castle, withdrew his resignation, and entrenched himself as Pope in the church of St. Maria Maggiore. During this time, and to end the intrigues of three rival popes, Holy Roman Emperor, Henry III (1017-56) had promoted Clement II (1046-1047) to the papacy, but he soon died from suspected poisoning. Benedict IX, who was widely believed to have ordered the poisoning, then took back the papacy with tactless arrogance and resumed his ‘sacred office’ for eight months.
In 1048, and at the age of 28-years, Pope Benedict IX was found dead in a pool of blood with his throat cut. Undertakers refused to build him a coffin, and he was surreptitiously dumped in the forest in old bed-sheets under the cover of darkness.
(This is an extract from a pre-publication manuscript called, ‘The Criminal History of the Catholic Church’ by Tony Bushby)