In accordance with the teaching of the Church we believe that the Holy Spirit governs the Church. Well then, how could Rodrigo Borgia, with a bad reputation, have become Pope Alexander VI?
Our Lord told his apostles: I shall ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to be with you forever the Spirit of truth whom the world can never receive since it neither sees nor knows him (Jn 14:16-17).
The Church has always accepted that it is the Holy Spirit who gives to us, its members, a life that is more than merely human. It is the life of God’s grace which wells up and carries us on to everlasting life. Moreover, on the Church’s pilgrimage to this everlasting life, the Spirit guides and protects the Church from straying from Christ’s teachings because it is the Spirit of truth.
Now, look at the membership of the Church. It is made up of sinful human beings who are capable of rising to enormous heights of holiness and of falling into the most appalling immorality. The Spirit is always with us, however, prompting us to be sorry for our sins and to return to the truth.
We Aren’t Puppets and Are Free to Sin
Speaking about the election of popes, reputable and otherwise, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict, in 1997 told German TV: there are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit would obviously not have picked. I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirit’s role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote.
The Church was born when the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, came down on the apostles at Pentecost. Since then, although its history is the history of sinful humanity, the Church has been and always will be, safeguarded from formally teaching anything to the world that is not true, that is, not in accordance with the divine will to redeem humanity in Christ.
That Guy Was A Politician
Pope Alexander VI was a man of his times. In the 15th century the popes were secular rulers of the papal states. They therefore tended to live like worldly princes. They were rich and powerful and became military strategists, having to go to wars to protect their territory. Like the other princes of those days, they surrounded themselves with allies and sycophants, and heaped honours on their families. Alexander was not the only pope around that time who lived a worldly life, although he has the worst reputation. The significant thing is that neither he nor the others ever led the Church from the path of true doctrine. Alexander promoted monastic reform and encouraged missionary activity.
For a period the papal states may have helped the papacy survive the political attacks of its enemies, but these states did the Church more harm than good.