More anti-papal junk from the semi-trads…
The Immoral Pope Benedict IX:
Response to a Recent One Peter Five Article
He may have been a moral reprobate, but he was nevertheless a true Vicar of Christ
The pseudo-traditionalist web site One Peter Five has been on a ferocious campaign against the Papacy for years.
Always promoting a conclusion that is still in search of a good argument, One Peter Five under the editorship of Timothy S. Flanders has been cranking out, with foolhardy determination, all kinds of propaganda material that ultimately only has one chief purpose: to uphold Jorge Bergoglio (‘Pope Francis’) as a true Pope, no matter how badly the Catholic teaching on the Papacy must be distorted in order to accomplish the desired result. To that end, they do not mind introducing misleading terms such as ‘hyperpapalism’ and ‘uber-ultramontanism’ to describe what in actual fact is the doctrine of the Church’s magisterium up until the death of Pope Pius XII.
In other words, instead of questioning the legitimacy of the claimant, they would rather ‘rethink’ the Papacy altogether. Prime offender in that regard is Dr. Peter A. Kwasniewski, but he is not our object of criticism today.
Rather, it is a certain Maxim Grigorieff, whose “Eastern Message to Western Trads” kicked off a series of articles on One Peter Five meant to show that Church history vindicates the recognize-and-resist position. The idea is to show that one cannot say Francis is not the Pope because there have been similarly ‘bad Popes’ in the past as well, who were (supposedly) ‘resisted’.
Poor Scholarship: Misleading Title, Atrocious Sourcing
As is not uncommon for One Peter Five, the quality of the articles leaves a lot to be desired. The Feb. 7, 2024 installment of Grigorieff’s series is entitled, “Pope Benedict IX was ‘A Devil from Hell'”. One would think, therefore, that the article concerns itself chiefly with Pope Benedict IX — except it doesn’t.
Although the essay’s first three paragraphs do indeed say a few things about Benedict IX, the remainder of the article talks about Pope Stephen V and other things. This reminds one of Chapter 29 of Taylor Marshall’s shoddy book Infiltration, which, although entitled “Infiltration and the Plot against Benedict XVI”, does not talk about infiltration at all, nor does it say anything about a plot against Benedict XVI.
In any case, we do not mean to suggest that the remainder of Grigorieff’s write-up is all bad or worthless, only that the title does not reflect the main content of the post. This is a first red flag, but it is not the only one.
Here, then, are the first three paragraphs with the claims made about Pope Benedict IX:
Benedict IX, born Count of Tuscolo, was elected Pope for the first time at the age of 18 or 20  (although other sources say the age of 11 or 12 ), and was a notorious Pope. Known to be a devil from hell, coming in the guise of a priest, complicit in vile adulteries and murders – a man who was devoted to pleasure, Benedict IX was also said to be a homosexual. 
However, at the end of his life, after his deposition and excommunication in 1049, he came to the Greek Catholic monastery of Grottaferrata, where St. Bartholomew was the abbot at the time. According to tradition, Benedict repented from his sinful life to spend his last days in repentance and prayer among the brethren.
St. Bartholomew could have rejected Benedict, as it was not completely safe for the monastery to hide a pope who had fallen into disfavour. He could also have gone into schism – being far more moral than this particular Vicar of Christ. But the holy man did what was virtuous, showing us now an example of charity, generosity, and obedience. Even if we had a pope like this, our way should be alike: waiting for his conversion while submitting to him in all things proper – for Jesus Christ.
(Maxim Grigorieff, “Pope Benedict IX was ‘A Devil from Hell'”, One Peter Five, Feb. 7, 2024; italics given; underlining added.)
As indicated in the quote, there are three footnotes inserted into the text, and they read as follows:
- Agostino Mathis, Appunti critici di Storia Medievale in La Civiltà Cattolica 66 (1915), nr. 4.
- Bertrand Russell, History of Western Philosophy (New York: Simon and Schuster), 412.
- Open sources refer to Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher, First Gay Pope and Other Records (Boston: Alyson, 1992).
The first two are meant to substantiate Benedict’s young age when he came Pope, the third one is to back up the claim that he was a sodomite. Let’s examine each of these references.
Regarding the first footnote, the citation is sloppy because not only is no page number provided, even the main title of the article is missing. The title given is actually only the subtitle, which makes it harder to find. The correct and full title is: “Il Pontefice Benedetto IX. Appunti critici di storia mediovale.” It is a series of articles that spans La Civiltà Cattolica vol. 66, n. 4, pages 549-571, and vol. 67, n. 1, pages 285-296 and 535-548. Despite the slapdash citation, at least the source is a proper one for substantiating that Pope Benedict IX was only 18 or 20 upon his election.
Regarding the second footnote, the author is using an odd source for information about a Pope — A History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell (1872-1970). Russell was an agnostic and author of the infamous, error-laden essay “Why I Am Not a Christian” (1927). Was there no better source available on the life of a Pope than that man’s book on the history of philosophy? How about a text on Church history by a well-regarded Catholic historian?
What adds insult to injury is that regarding Benedict IX’s age, Russell merely writes that the Pope “is said to have been only twelve years old at the time” (p. 432). That’s it. In other words, Grigorieff’s source for the claim that Pope Benedict was possibly only a child when he ascended the Chair of St. Peter, is the hearsay recorded by an agnostic in a book on philosophy. That is some fantastic sourcing for an article that seeks to teach or advise Catholics about the Papacy.
Even just a glance on Benedict IX’s entry in the 1907 Catholic Encyclopedia would have given Grigorieff a better source for the claim he wishes to advance, the truth of which it denies, however:
The nephew of his two immediate predecessors, Benedict IX was a man of very different character to either of them. He was a disgrace to the Chair of Peter. Regarding it as a sort of heirloom, his father Alberic placed him upon it when a mere youth, not, however, apparently of only twelve years of age (according to Raoul Glaber, Hist., IV, 5, n. 17. Cf. V, 5, n. 26), but of about twenty (October, 1032).
(Catholic Encyclopedia, s.v. “Pope Benedict IX”; underlining added.)
The third footnote concerns Benedict IX’s alleged propensity to sodomy, and it refers the reader to Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher’s book The First Gay Pope and Other Records (Boston, MA: Alyson Publications, Inc., 1992) — another fine academic source on ecclesiastical history. The back cover assures us that the author is “the first lesbian to compile a book of gay and lesbian firsts and records.” Can One Peter Five‘s research get any more superficial and preposterous?
That is not to say, by the way, that the information related by Grigorieff about Benedict IX’s immorality is false. There is no question that Pope Benedict IX was one of the most scandalous Popes in history. As we know, however, an immoral Catholic is one thing; a non-Catholic (immoral or otherwise) is quite another. A Pope can be an immoral Catholic (i.e. commit many sins but still adhere to the true Faith; see Denz. 838); he cannot, however, be a ‘non-Catholic Catholic’. Therefore, any public non-Catholic cannot be Pope, for a ‘non-Catholic Pope’ is as much of a contradiction in terms as is a ‘married bachelor’. A little more on that later.
The point of criticizing the author’s sourcing, rather, is that if he wishes to be taken seriously, and if he takes his readers as seriously as he should, then he must use appropriate, scholarly sources documenting his claims, not sensationalist trash like The First Gay Pope, written by a lesbian who doesn’t provide any substantiation for her assertions.
Thus far the first red flags.
Unfortunately, we must move on to even more serious stuff.
Pope Benedict IX — Excommunicated and Deposed?
The second of the three paragraphs remarks that the wicked Pope Benedict IX eventually repented and withdrew to a Catholic monastery. The author notes casually that this took place “after his deposition and excommunication in 1049”. Pardon? What? As if it were the most normal thing in the world, Grigorieff informs the reader that the Pope was deposed and excommunicated. (Interestingly enough, he does not bother to tell us by whom.)
It is Catholic dogma that there is no authority on earth that could validly depose or excommunicate the Supreme Pontiff of the Catholic Church. It doesn’t matter how many mortal sins crying to heaven for vengeance he should commit on a daily basis. Do the One Peter Five author and his editor not know this, or are they deliberately making claims that are implicitly heretical?
The Catholic Church teaches as follows:
And since the Roman Pontiff is at the head of the universal Church by the divine right of apostolic primacy, We teach and declare also that he is the supreme judge of the faithful, and that in all cases pertaining to ecclesiastical examination recourse can be had to his judgment; moreover, that the judgment of the Apostolic See, whose authority is not surpassed, is to be disclaimed by no one, nor is anyone permitted to pass judgment on its judgment. Therefore, they stray from the straight path of truth who affirm that it is permitted to appeal from the judgments of the Roman Pontiffs to an ecumenical Council, as to an authority higher than the Roman Pontiff.
(First Vatican Council, Dogmatic Constitution Pastor Aeternus, Ch. 3; Denz. 1830; underlining added.)
In fact, the 1917 Code of Canon Law [#CommissionLink] punishes with an automatic excommunication anyone, including cardinals, who appeals from the judgment of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council, and such a person is considered suspect of heresy (see Canon 2332). What heresy? The heresy of Conciliarism, part and parcel of Gallicanism.
In canonical terms, the dogma of Vatican I is rendered as follows: “Prima Sedes a nemine iudicatur” (Canon 1556) — “The First See is judged by no one.” What this means is spelled out by canonist Fr. Charles Augustine (1872-1943) in this way:
The first or primatial see is subject to no one’s judgment. This proposition must be taken in the fullest extent, not only with regard to the object of infallibility. For in matters of faith and morals it was always customary to receive the final sentence from the Apostolic See, whose judgment no one dared to dispute, as the tradition of the Fathers demonstrates. Neither was it ever allowed to reconsider questions or controversies once settled by the Holy See. But even the person of the Supreme Pontiff was ever considered as unamenable to human judgment, he being responsible and answerable to God alone, even though accused of personal misdeeds and crimes. A remarkable instance is that of Pope Symmachus (498-514). He, indeed, submitted to the convocation of a council (the Synodus Palmaris, 502), because he deemed it his duty to see to it that no stain was inflicted upon his character, but that synod itself is a splendid vindication of our canon. The synod adopted the Apology of Ennodius of Pavia, in which occurs the noteworthy sentence: “God wished the causes of other men to be decided by men; but He has reserved to His own tribunal, without question, the ruler of this see.” No further argument for the traditional view is required. A general council could not judge the Pope, because, unless convoked or ratified by him, it could not render a valid sentence. Hence nothing is left but an appeal to God, who will take care of His Church and its head.
(Rev. Charles Augustine, A Commentary on the New Code of Canon Law, Vol. VII [St. Louis, MO: Herder, 1921], pp. 11-12; italics given; underlining added.)
Fr. Stanislaus Woywod (1880-1941), another pre-Vatican II authority on canon law, gives the following explanation:
The Primatial See can be judged by no one (Canon 1556). The Supreme Pontiff has the highest legislative, administrative and judicial power in the Church. The Code states that the Roman Pontiff cannot be brought to trial by anyone. The very idea of the trial of a person supposes that the court conducting the trial has jurisdiction over the person, but the Pope has no superior, wherefore no court has power to subject him to judicial trial.
(Rev. Stanislaus Woywod, A Practical Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, rev. by Rev. Callistus Smith [New York: Joseph F. Wagner, 1952], n. 1549, p. 225; underlining added.)
These are crucial points to understand, for obvious reasons.
A Deep Dive into Church History
For some background on Pope Benedict IX from a reliable and approved Catholic source, we can turn to the work of Church historian Fr. Fernand Mourret (1854-1938), who writes as follows:
The dignity of the supreme power did not alter the morals of the newly elected Pope. In his private life the pursuit of pleasures and the love of wealth remained his great passions; in his public life he became the willing tool of his family’s greed and the Emperor’s despotism. But, as in the case of John XII, we should observe that Benedict IX never tried to give doctrinal approval to his conduct. His official teaching was the condemnation of his life. God, to make conspicuously clear that sinister consequences follow when the civil power interferes in the choice of His pontiffs, allowed corruption to reach even to the throne of St. Peter in the person of an unworthy pope. But He did not permit that a single line of such a pope’s bullarium should bring the least discredit upon the Church. [Note well, One Peter Five authors, editors, and readers! –NOW]
Twice (in 1036 and 1044) he was driven from Rome by popular uprisings; he returned at the head of the vassals of Tusculum. The second time he barricaded himself and his followers in Trastevere, while the city was in the power of the rebels. The old dissensions, which formerly had led to clashes between the house of the Crescentii and the house of Tusculum, were revived. The resort to arms at first favored Benedict. But his foes, by their profuse gifts of money, succeeded in having an antipope elected, Bishop John of Sabina, who took the name of Sylvester III. Benedict’s party then invested Rome on all sides and, on April 10, 1044, forcibly reinstated him in the Lateran Palace. Sylvester, after forty-nine days of ephemeral power, returned vanquished to his diocese of Sabina.
A year later (May 1, 1045) Benedict IX, fearing a fresh revolt, abdicated in favor of his godfather, the archpriest John Gratian, who is spoken of by all contemporaries as commendable. He was accepted by the clergy and people and took the name of Gregory VI. Benedict, however, withdrew only after stipulating with his successor that he should receive a large sum of money by way of indemnity, which Gregory, to avoid excessive evils and to end the shame of the Church, agreed to pay. This simoniacal contract did not prevent Benedict, two years later, after the death of [Pope] Clement II [1046-1047], from again seizing the power and holding it from November, 1047, to July 16, 1048, when Emperor Henry III drove him from Rome by force. The circumstances of his death are clouded in mystery. Some writers hold that he was moved by repentance and took the religious habit in the Abbey of Grottaferrata, where he died shortly afterward; others think that he died impenitent and that his premature end was a consequence of his dissolute life.
(Rev. Fernand Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV [St. Louis, MO: B. Herder Book Co., 1947], pp. 122-124)
With regard to his supposed deposition and excommunication, the following historical details provided by Fr. Mourret help to shed some light on the matter, because it mentions the term “deposition” not only in connection with Pope Benedict IX but also Pope Gregory VI:
A short time after this, King Henry III and Pope Gregory VI held a conference at Piacenza. Together they went to Sutri, eight leagues from Rome, and there, in conformity with the King’s desire, Gregory convoked a new council, over which he presided in person, on December 30, 1046. This wish of the King was a trap, which neither the Pope nor his confidential secretary Hildebrand was able to discern at the very first. Only later, through the experience of life, did Hildebrand learn to mistrust men’s words, and even then excessive confidence in his enemies always remained the noble weakness of this grand character. The King’s purpose in having this council assembled was to have it pass judgment, according to his own views, upon the question of the lawfulness of Gregory’s election and to place Gregory, in the assembly over which he would officially preside, in the position of one accused.
First, the election of Sylvester III was declared null. The case of Benedict IX, who had refused to attend the council, was reserved. Then they came to the election of Gregory VI. Says the chronicler Bonizo:
The Pontiff, a simple and unsuspecting man, without any evasions set forth the account of his election. He enjoyed a large fortune, which he was willing to employ for the welfare of the Church. Seeing how the party of the nobility was disposing of the Holy See in utter contempt for the canonical regulations, he considered he was performing a good work in purchasing and in restoring to the clergy and people of Rome the right to elect the pope. The members of the council told him that such subtlety had been dictated to him by the serpent and that what could be bought should not be considered holy. Gregory replied: “God is my witness that, in acting as I did, I believed I was meriting the pardon of my faults and the glory of God.” To this the bishops answered: “It would have been better for you to be poor as Peter than rich like Simon Magus. Pronounce your own condemnation.” Then Gregory pronounced against himself the following sentence: “I, Gregory, bishop, servant of the servants of God, judge that, having made myself guilty of the shameful crime and heresy of simony, ought to be deposed from the Roman bishopric.” [Footnote 104]
After such a sentence, Henry III should have been satisfied. This pretended defender of the canons and of morals, who for seven years had remained silent in the presence of the scandals of Benedict IX, at length broke the power of a pope who was animated by the purest intentions; but Henry had imposed his wishes in the matter of a papal election. In an assembly held at Rome on December 23 and 24, 1046, Benedict IX was also deposed. On December 24, Henry informed the Roman clergy and people of the candidate of his choice, Suidger, bishop of Bamberg, who was consecrated the next day under the name of Clement II. That same day the new Pope at Rome crowned Emperor Henry III and Empress Agnes. The German monarch also received the title of Roman patrician. Gregory was sent to Germany with his chaplain Hildebrand and was treated as a state prisoner in the custody of the Archbishop of Cologne.
Henry had accomplished his purpose: he took the place of the counts of Tusculum and was ready to play the part which that family had so long filled in the elections to the papacy. We shall see four transalpine popes, one after the other, imposed on Rome: the bishops of Bamberg, of Brixen, of Toul, and of Eichstatt: Clement II, Damasus II, Leo IX, and Victor II. But in all truth we must say that none of these popes repeated the scandal of the popes that sprang from Tusculum; on the contrary, more or less effectively, all labored for reform. But the principle of the imperial supremacy remained a danger which the sharp mind of a Hildebrand did not lose sight of and from which he later attempted to free the Church of God. When, on April 22, 1073, Hildebrand was raised to the supreme pontificate, he took the name Gregory VII as a protest against the removal of Gregory VI from the list of the popes and against the decision of the Council of Sutri.
(Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV, pp. 131-133.)
Clearly, these were very tempestuous, scandalous, and confusing times. But we must not lose sight of the fact that however sinful it was to purchase or sell the Papacy, to bargain with it, etc., such wicked activity did not mean that the pontificate so obtained was invalid.
What do we make of the testimony of the chronicler Bonizo, according to whom, as quoted above, Pope Gregory VI conceded that he “ought to be deposed”? Looking closely at the words reported, Gregory only said, in light of the evidence against him, that he is worthy of deposition, not that he can be deposed by any of his inferiors. Who can depose a Pope unworthy of being Pope? Only the Pope himself can, by resigning the office, and this is exactly what Gregory VI did — he deposed himself.
Notice that at the end of Bonizo’s testimony, Fr. Mourret places a reference to “Footnote 104”. This footnote is essential because it clarifies this very important point of Pope Gregory’s resignation. It reads as follows:
104. Jaffé, Monumenta gregoriana, pp. 626 f. A sharp controversy has arisen among historians over the question whether Gregory VI was deposed at the Council of Sutri or whether he abdicated. Bonizo’s simple account seems to furnish the solution. Gregory abdicated, as in the course of the ages many kings have abdicated, bowing before a successful rebellion. In this sense we can understand the words of St. Peter Damian, who was present at the council, and who, thinking of the substance of things rather than the form, says that Gregory “was deposed.”
(Mourret, A History of the Catholic Church, vol. IV, p. 132, fn. 104; italics given.)
That Gregory VI was not deposed but resigned, properly speaking, is also attested to by Archbishop Francis P. Kenrick in The Primacy of the Apostolic See Vindicated (7th ed., Baltimore, MD: John Murphy & Co., 1875): “Gregory VI. obtained from Benedict the reunciation of his claims in 1044, and sat two years and eight months, but resigned in the Council of Sutri” (p. 435).
It is important to understand, when perusing works of history, that sometimes terms are used in an imprecise way, especially in older literature, where a word may not have the exact sense it eventually came to acquire. With regard to deposition specifically, canon law professor Fr. Henry Ayrinhac notes that “the language of councils or ecclesiastical writers when treating of this subject often lacks precision” (H. A. Ayrinhac, Penal Legislation in the New Code of Canon Law [New York: Benziger, 1920], p. 145).
In addition, we must remember that the issue of whether a Pope could be removed from office by a council (Conciliarism) was not definitively rejected by the magisterium until at least the 17th century in the initial condemnation of some aspects of Gallicanism, and perhaps not until the First Vatican Council in 1870. This consideration, too, would explain why some writers in the 11th century, such as St. Peter Damian, might casually speak of a Pope’s “deposition.”
But be that as it may, it would be imprudent and insufficient, of course, to rely merely on Fr. Mourret’s account concerning this complex historical matter. A fairly detailed treatment of this turbulent period in Church history is given by historian Dr. Warren H. Carroll (1932-2011), whose work we will consult next. Although Carroll was Novus Ordo and is therefore unreliable in terms of theology, we do not have any reason to doubt or dispute his scholarship in Church history, as we mentioned before in our post on the suppression of the Jesuit order.
Dr. Carroll presents a beautifully coherent picture of this rather ugly chapter of the Church’s past. We will quote him at length in order not to run the risk of distorting the record by omitting important details for the sake of brevity:
In the fall of 1044 Pope Benedict IX was driven from Rome, for reasons which are lost in the obscurity of those ill-recorded times. It might have been, as many writers suggest, because of the scandal given by his notoriously immoral life; but far better Popes than Benedict IX have also been expelled for [sic — should be from] Rome, and the cause might just as well have been a desire to overthrow the Theophylact [i.e. Benedict IX’s] family so that others could gain control of the city. The Romans, holding the city itself, elected an antipope, Sylvester; outside the walls the Theophylacts prevailed, and in March 1045 they restored Benedict IX. But he felt very insecure after what had happened; according to a widely circulated report, he wished to marry; therefore, almost immediately after his restoration, he began trying to work out an arrangement whereby the burdens and dangers of the Papacy would be transferred to another in return for full reimbursement of the money he had originally spent to secure the Papal office. His godfather, a much older man of unsullied reputation named John Gratian, head of the house of priests associated with the Church of St. John at the Latin Gate, agreed to find the requested money in order to bring about the removal of his godson from the place of Vicar of Christ for which he was so evidently unfitted. The money — a very large sum — seems to have been obtained from the Pierleoni family, converts from Judaism, of which John Gratian was later said to have been a member. The evidence is spotty and puzzling, but there is substantial agreement that John Gratian was a man of high character and motivation who nevertheless obtained the Papacy in a morally questionable manner when Benedict IX resigned May 1, 1045. As Pope Gregory VI, John Gratian was accepted by the reforming party in the Church, until the story of his financial arrangement with Benedict IX came out.
[Emperor] Henry III received Pope Gregory VI with full honors at Piacenza, which certainly shows that at that point Henry recognized him as the valid Pope. Indeed there is no clear evidence that anyone else was claiming to be Pope at that time. Antipope Sylvester had not been heard from since Benedict IX’s return to Rome in March 1045, a year and a half before; and Benedict had made as yet no attempt to repudiate his resignation. A synod of bishops met at Pavia, with both Pope and Emperor present. Henry III addressed them. He spoke bluntly, and from the heart:
It is with grief that I take upon myself to address you who represent Christ in his Church… For as He of his own free goodness … deigned to come and redeem us, so, when sending you into the whole world, He said, “Freely have you received, freely give.” But you, who might have bestowed the gift of God gratuitously, corrupted by avarice, have sinned by your giving and taking, and are cursed by the sacred canons … All, from the Pope to the doorkeeper, are loaded with this guilt.
From this point on, it seems to have been assumed that Pope Gregory VI would step down. On his way to Rome for the crisis, Abbot St. Odilo of Cluny wrote Henry III urging him, in this event, not to restore the corrupt Benedict IX. It is impossible to believe, however, that the canon lawyers of the Church had forgotten the long tradition, going all the way back to Pope Liberius in the Arian crisis of 356-362, that a Pope could not be judged and deposed by any temporal authority, even an Emperor. Indeed, Bishop Wazo of Liège, one of the most famous canonists of his day, had already declared earlier that year at an imperial assembly at Aachen, where he was serving as an episcopal judge, that the Emperor has no right to depose any Italian bishop without the Pope’s consent — to say nothing of deposing the Pope himself. Pope Gregory VI had to consent to leave office; no power on earth could lawfully remove him. He did consent, at a synod at Sutri in December 1046, for the good of the Church, having come to a belated realization that the good end of persuading a bad Pope to resign does not justify the evil means of simony to attain it. Any claims that Benedict IX or Sylvester might make to the Papacy were rejected in advance by the synod.
The later legend that the Holy Roman Emperor deposed three Popes at Sutri in 1046 presents such a striking image and has been so attractive to enemies of the Papacy and the Church and champions of the secular state that it lives on in many histories, despite having almost no connection with historical reality. Nobody but Gregory VI claimed to be Pope in December 1046, when the synod of Sutri was held. The declarations regarding the resigned Pope [Benedict IX] and the antipope [Sylvester III] were strictly precautionary measures against the assertion of Papal claims by either man in the future — a concern which was to prove well founded. The fact that Gregory VI resigned under pressure does not make his action any less a resignation. He attached no conditions to it and never made any attempt to withdraw it as given under duress.
The decisive proof that Gregory VI resigned and was not deposed lies in the later silence of Hildebrand [the future Pope St. Gregory VII] on the matter. Hildebrand actually accompanied ex-Pope Gregory into exile in Germany and, as already mentioned, was to take Gregory’s name when he himself later became Pope. No pontiff in the history of the Church was more zealous in defense and advocacy of Papal prerogatives than Hildebrand as Gregory VII; none held more resolutely that the Pope was independent of all human authority. As Pope, Hildebrand was to be exiled from Rome by a Holy Roman Emperor [Henry IV]; he had no reason whatever to cover up, protect, or justify an illegitimate exercise of imperial authority. Yet he never claimed or hinted that Gregory VI had been wrongfully or invalidly removed from the See of Peter by Emperor Henry III, or that Gregory VI had remained the true Pope until his death in Germany in October 1047. Bishop Wazo of Liège, far away from Belgium and evidently unaware of all the facts, did make this claim for Gregory VI. But neither Gregory himself, nor Hildebrand who was at his side throughout, ever did.
On Christmas Eve 1046 the German Bishop Suidger of Bamberg was nominated for Pope by Henry III. It is very significant that even in his now completely dominant position in Rome, Henry III took care to have Suidger duly elected by the clergy and acclaimed by the people, then still the established Papal election procedure — often and blatantly violated though it had been. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that, weary of feudal anarchy, the clergy and people of Rome would then have accepted any suitable nominee of Henry’s in an entirely free election. Suidger took the Papal name of Clement II. The next day, Christmas, he was consecrated, with Abbot St. Odilo of Cluny beside him. He then crowned Henry III Holy Roman Emperor, as Charlemagne had been crowned on Christmas day 800. Knowing the fickleness of the clergy and people of Rome, Henry called upon them formally to grant him the power to nominate Popes and invest bishops, so that he might better reform the Church. This dangerous power was extended to him as he asked; the grant was even praised by the zealous reformer St. Peter Damian. There is every reason to presume that it was duly confirmed by new Pope Clement II.
Once again it must be remembered that no canon law binds the Pope unless he chooses to be so bound, since he is absolutely sovereign. He may set up any procedure for determining the Papal succession that seems good to him, even nomination by a single individual — himself or another. But, as both Henry III and Clement II should have realized, this system was much too open to abuse to be retained. Thirteen years later it was supplanted by the College of Cardinals, first established by Pope Nicholas II.
Henry’s nominee for Clement II’s successor was Bishop Poppo of Brixen in Bavaria, who took the name Damasus II. Before the imperial nomination was made, former Pope Benedict IX reappeared on the scene with the support of Marquis Boniface of Tuscany and lavish outlays of gold — presumably the equivalent of what he had paid for the Papacy in the first place and then been recompensed for by Gregory VI. But his status as an ex-Pope gave Benedict no advantage; the law of succession as it then stood required Henry III’s nomination. Hence Benedict was not validly re-elected Pope.
Henry III’s letter carried to Marquis Boniface by the new Pope Damasus II suggested that the Emperor was no longer drawing — if he had ever drawn — the careful distinctions which properly pertained to his relations with the See of Peter: “Learn, you who have restored a Pope who was canonically deposed, and who have been led by love of lucre to despise my commands, learn that, if you do not amend your ways, I will soon come and make you.” The Emperor was arrogating too much ecclesiastical power to himself; but his demeanor was sufficiently formidable to cause Marquis Boniface to back down in a hurry. He expelled the feckless Benedict (who was maintaining his renewed claim to the Papacy) from Rome before the imperial army arrived. Pope Damasus II was consecrated in St. Peter’s July 17, 1048, only to die less than a month later.
(Warren H. Carroll, The Building of Christendom [#CommissionLink] [Front Royal, VA: Christendom College Press, 1987], pp. 462-466; underlining added.)
This is a lot to take in, but now the story makes sense. Let’s recap and draw together the essentials of what Fr. Mourret and Dr. Carroll present (the years mentioned are approximate):
- Benedict IX became Pope in 1033 through simony and led an immoral life even as Pope
- Benedict’s enemies elected Antipope Sylvester III and installed him in Rome in 1044
- In 1045, Benedict IX agreed to resign and appoint Gregory VI as his successor, as part of a bargain in which Gregory reimbursed him for the money he had paid to become Pope in 1033
- Gregory VI summoned a synod at Sutri in 1046 at the behest of King Henry III
- The synod participants convinced Gregory VI to resign because he had become Pope through simony
- Bishop Suidger of Bamberg became Pope Clement II in accordance with Church law
- After Clement II’s death, Benedict IX tried to retake the Papacy but Henry III nominated Bp. Poppo de’ Curagnoni, who became Pope Damasus II
- Whether Benedict IX validly held the Papacy a second time, namely, between Clement II’s death and the election of Damasus II, is unclear — Fr. Mourret seems to say yes, whereas Dr. Carroll gives a definite no — but also not really relevant since no one else claimed to be Pope during that time
For our purposes, the most striking sentence in Dr. Carroll’s account is probably this one: “The later legend that the Holy Roman Emperor deposed three Popes at Sutri in 1046 presents such a striking image and has been so attractive to enemies of the Papacy and the Church and champions of the secular state that it lives on in many histories, despite having almost no connection with historical reality.”
Looking for anything they can to justify their resistance to a man they claim is a valid Pope (i.e. Francis), recognize-and-resisters have fallen again and again for arguments used by “enemies of the Papacy and the Church”, specifically Protestants, Gallicans, Old Catholics, and Modernists. The true Catholic position they instead denounce as “Ultramontanism”, a label which, to a true Catholic, is a badge of honor!
Thus we see once again how, although they may appear convincing at first, claims made to the detriment of the Papacy by the semi-traditionalist recognize-and-resist camp go up in smoke once they are critically examined and tested against the genuine historical and theological record. Tragically, One Peter Five has been framing and cultivating a narrative that is not only historically false but doctrinally heretical and thus doubly detrimental to souls.
There are two more things Grigorieff mentions in those three paragraphs on Benedict IX that we must comment on.
First, he states that instead of receiving the repentant Pope Benedict IX into his monastery, St. Bartholomew “could also have gone into schism — being far more moral than this particular Vicar of Christ”. This is a puzzling assertion because the author makes it seem as if schism were ever a morally acceptable option. Obviously, schism is a mortal sin, and one that of its very nature separates one from the Catholic Church. But in recognize-and-resist land, pretty much anything goes, as long as one does not conclude that Francis isn’t the Pope.
Second, Grigorieff says that “[e]ven if we had a pope like this” — as if Benedict IX had been worse than Francis! — “our way should be alike: waiting for his conversion while submitting to him in all things proper – for Jesus Christ.”
With these words, which on the surface appear sound and pious, the author lumps together two very different things that must be considered separately: the case of a Catholic Pope who is very immoral, and that of a non-Catholic Pope; in other words, that of a bad Pope and a heretical Pope.
The essential difference between the two has been explained sufficiently in the past: A bad Pope is possible, a heretical Pope is not, at least not one who teaches heresy officially in his putative capacity as Pope, which the bishops and faithful must then ‘resist’. Detailed information about this is available in these articles:
- The ‘But We’ve Had Bad Popes Before’ Objection
- The Open Letter accusing Francis of Heresy: A Sedevacantist Analysis
- St. Robert Bellarmine’s Teaching on Resisting a Pope
Similar to how sacramental validity does not depend upon the holiness of the minister, the divine assistance Christ has promised to the papal office cannot be vitiated by the sinfulness of whomever the individual Pope happens to be at any given time. It is Christ Himself who guides the Church through His Vicar.
Thus Pope Leo XIII taught beautifully:
…the Church has received from on high a promise which guarantees her against every human weakness. What does it matter that the helm of the symbolic barque has been entrusted to feeble hands, when the Divine Pilot stands on the bridge, where, though invisible, He is watching and ruling? Blessed be the strength of his arm and the multitude of his mercies!
(Pope Leo XIII, Allocution to Cardinals, March 20, 1900; excerpted in Papal Teachings: The Church, p. 349.)
Likewise, Pope Pius XII proclaimed:
The Pope has the divine promises; even in his human weaknesses, he is invincible and unshakable; he is the messenger of truth and justice, the principle of the unity of the Church; his voice denounces errors, idolatries, superstitions; he condemns iniquities; he makes charity and virtue loved.
(Address Ancora Una Volta, Feb. 20, 1949)
Thus it is no surprise to a Catholic to learn that despite all his immorality, even Pope Benedict IX was divinely prevented from sullying the papal magisterium, from imposing heresy or other pernicious errors on the Church. As already quoted above, Fr. Mourret made clear that…
…Benedict IX never tried to give doctrinal approval to his conduct. His official teaching was the condemnation of his life. God, to make conspicuously clear that sinister consequences follow when the civil power interferes in the choice of His pontiffs, allowed corruption to reach even to the throne of St. Peter in the person of an unworthy pope. But He did not permit that a single line of such a pope’s bullarium [=teaching documents] should bring the least discredit upon the Church.
This is not merely the pious take of a Catholic historian. Even a secular work notes regarding Benedict IX: “Although the sources later would depict him as depraved, the young pope was able to direct the Church skillfully throughout the twelve years of his pontificate” (Philippe Levillain, ed., The Papacy: An Encyclopedia, vol. 1 [New York, NY: Routledge, 2002], p. 157).
The Papacy would not only be worthless but also quite dangerous if it did not enjoy the special help of God. Hence Pope Pius XI reminded us that…
…a characteristic of all true followers of Christ, lettered or unlettered, is to suffer themselves to be guided and led in all things that touch upon faith or morals by the Holy Church of God through its Supreme Pastor the Roman Pontiff, who is himself guided by Jesus Christ Our Lord.
(Pope Pius XI, Encyclical Casti Connubii, n. 104)
And hence Pope Pius XII was able to declare:
Mother Church, Catholic, Roman, which has remained faithful to the constitution received from her Divine Founder, which still stands firm today on the solidity of the rock on which his will erected her, possesses in the primacy of Peter and of his legitimate successors the assurance, guaranteed by the divine promises, of keeping and transmitting inviolate and in all its integrity through centuries and millennia to the very end of time, the entire sum of truth and grace contained in the redemptive mission of Christ.
(Pope Pius XII, Allocution to the Consistory, June 2, 1944)
These Catholic truths are beautiful, but in vain will one look for semi-traditionalist propaganda outlets to quote them — except perhaps to ridicule them — because they blatantly contradict their position and show it to be false.
And so we see that One Peter Five is once again dishing up trashy articles against the Papacy, meant to give credence to recognize-and-resist while dissuading readers from embracing Sedevacantism — under the label of ‘defending Tradition’.
Given the evidence above, it is evident which position really has Tradition on its side.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons (Oleografia Panigati e Meneghini Milano)
License: public domain