Much-Loved Popes (Plus Scoundrels)
John Lee, Johannesburg – With our much-loved Pope Francis drawing millions of our Catholic young people to worship with him in the latest get-together of youth in Krakow, one is drawn to reflect on some of the great “papal moments” in history, starting with St Peter’s anointed speech at Pentecost when about 3000 were added to the number of believes (Acts 2:41)
Pope Leo the Great (440-461AD) comes to mind as he heroically defended Rome against the pagans, persuading the Huns to retreat to the Danube, and intervened at the Council of Chalcedon, with his tome being accepted as a standard of Christological orthodoxy.
By the Renaissance, men less worthy of the successor of Peter were in evidence, such as Alexander VI (pope from 1492) witnessing 600 bridesmaids accompanying his illegitimate daughter Lecrezia Borgia processing up the aisle of St Peter’s on one of her marriages. A man of immoral life, and the executor of Savonarola, Rodrigo Borgia was also an astute politician and a patron of the arts.
Pope Julius II’s papacy (1443-1513) consisted mostly of various war campaigns in Italy, including defeating Venice. He was responsible for calling the 5th Latin Council in response to Louis XII calling the Council of Pisa to depose him!
More positively, Pius V called together a combined Christian army in 1571 which defeated the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, thanks to the widespread praying of the rosary. His excommunication of Queen Elizabeth I of England (in 1570) aggravated the position of the Catholic Church in England.
Pius VI, pope from 1775, was taken prisoner by Napoleon and died at Valance in 1779.
Pope Pius IX saw the papacy deprived of all temporal sovereignty. The definition of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Our Lady was defined by Pius IX in 1854.
Pope Pius XI was responsible for the encyclical condemning Nazism, Mit Brennender Sorge (With Urgent Concern) to be read in all German churches on Palm Sunday 1937.
Pope Pius XII had Jewish families sleeping on the stairways at Castelgandolfo in World War II. His greatest admirer was Rabbi Zolli of Rome, who later converted and became a Catholic priest.
Also, Pope John XXIII, while apostolic delegate in Bulgaria, forged many baptism certificates for Jews to save them from Hitler’s ovens.
All subsequent popes have been among the greatest of all time, including Paul VI, St John Paul II up to our present much-loved Pope Francis, who recently touched the hearts of the entire world by taking home with him to the Vatican after a visit to the many refugees on the Greek island of Lesbos, 12 displaced families, all Muslim, to set up homes, jobs, citizenship and schooling for their children. History, I believe, will prove him to be one of the greatest of all time.
Despite the fact that a few popes were scoundrels, as we’ve seen, the Lord’s promise that no pope would teach false doctrine (Mt 16:17-18) has proved prophetic and true, over and over.