By Joe Olvera ©, 2013
There are Popes, and then there are Popes. With the recent election by Vatican Cardinals of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, as Pope Francis, the 1.2 billion Catholics throughout the world are praying that this Pope can set the church to rights, and can end the corruption and the scandals that threaten to undermine and even destroy the 2,000 year-old institution. The newly retired Pope Benedict XVI, left the church right at the time when priests and other clergy are being accused of improper behavior, such as committing homosexual acts against innocent children.
Although Pope Francis, seems to be just what the church needs at this time, there are some Popes in history who have left a legacy of corruption and malfeasance who have been anything but godly or holy. Pope Francis fits the bill as a man of great humility and of poverty, despite the trappings which the Church provides for its upper echelons and spiritual leaders. In his city of Buenos Aires, Argentina, he lived in a one-room apartment, cooked his own meals, and like St. Francis, he administered to the poor. Whereas he might turn out to be a great Pope, history will judge him accordingly.
Not all Popes have been held in such high regard and esteem. A website in the Internet lists the ten worst Popes in history. The award for worst Pope, or “the Baddest Pope Ever,” must go to Rodrigo Borgia. As Pope Alexander VI, Borgia is famous for amassing great wealth, which he then used to bribe his way into high office. As Pope Alexander, he was so amorous that he sired at least seven illegitimate children by his mistresses. Said lovers were said to have been rewarded with large amounts of cash at the Church’s expense. When Pope Alexander was broke, he either created and sold new Cardinalships in return for money, or he slammed wealthy people on fabricated criminal charges, jailed or murdered them, and then stole their money. His goals were selfish and ambitious and he drove the City of Rome to ruin and disrepair. He was so corrupt that even Giovanni de Medici, who later became Pope Leo X, remarked: “Now we are in the power of a wolf, the most rapacious perhaps that this world has ever seen. And if we do not flee, he will inevitably devour us all.”
However, in retrospect, Pope Leo X didn’t turn out to be such a honey of a Pope himself. A member of the exceedingly wealthy and powerful Medici family – who ruled in MichelAgelo’s time – Leo was known for being the most lavish and uncontrollable spender who ever ruled the Church. He illustrated his greatest priority by saying: “Since God has given us the Papacy, let us enjoy it.” In addition to living a life of splendor and luxury, Leo practiced nepotism, sold Cardinal seats and other indulgences to finance the reconstruction of St. Peter’s Basilica. He was also accused of being a homosexual and of enjoying the sexual favors of young men. A story goes that when he died, he was with a young man enjoying the fruits of the young man’s labor. Whether this story is true or not, he was known as someone who truly enjoyed the Papacy.
All in all, in the 2000 years of the Catholic Church, there have been 265 Popes. Granted, they were not all corrupt and they did not all abuse their power. So, will El Papa Francisco of Argentina, the world’s 66th Pope, succumb to the wealth and power which all Popes enjoy? Not very likely, because, unlike in ancient times, when not much was known about Vatican City, that is no longer the case. Today the Church is being examined and scrutinized like never before. The Church can ill afford other scandals. Despite the Church’s attempts to hide its more glaring problems, it has not succeeded. Pope Francis will not have the opportunity to act as the Popes of old had. He will be closely watched.
However, indications are that he is a humble man who hopes to ignore the wealth and power of his position and act for the good of all Catholics. Besides eschewing all luxuries, besides catering to the poor, Pope Francis might turn out to be a great Pope. Too, he comes into the Papacy brandishing a series of firsts, including:
*He is the first Spanish-speaking Latino to ever ascend to the Papacy;
*He is the first non-European Pope in over a thousand years;
*He is the first Jesuit to become Pope;
*He was the runner-up to Pope Benedict XVI in the papal elections of 2005;
*As a teenager, he lost one of his lungs due to infection;
*Before working for the Church, he was a Chemist who taught literature, philosophy, psychology, and theology;
*He is known for being humble, shy, and democratic in nature and is considered to be a reformer, but isn’t necessarily considered to be progressive.