Sylvester III was briefly Pope during the huge mess that was caused by his predecessor,Pope Benedict IX. When the Romans grew sick of Benedict and his tawdry ways,they ran him out of town and quickly elected Giovanni de’ Crescenzi,the Bishop of Sabina,who took the name Sylvester III. Sylvester was by all accounts a very devout and holy man who didn’t even want to be the Pope,but he stepped up to the plate to try to help bring order to the chaos caused by Benedict. Unfortunately,Benedict didn’t stay gone long and returned with a force to reclaim his title. Sylvester was confined to a monastery and later on he was officially disposed by Holy Roman emperor Henry III. Due to the massive confusion caused by Benedict’s three separate terms as Holy Father(!),Sylvester was sometimes thought to be an anti-Pope but he’s still officially listed as a rightful Pope.
Pope Benedict IX left the Papacy to marry a girl,and this would have been very romantic in any other story but Benedict also happened to be miserable little snot that actually sold the office to pay for said marriage. Ugh. This guy. I’ve been dreading this guy. Put on the chair of Peter by his influential family(his Uncles had been Popes),Benedict was all of about 20 years old when he was elected and you can guess how this plays out. Every awful thing that you could accuse a 20 year old of,Benedict was accused of(and probably guilty of). Eventually the Roman people ran him out of town and replaced him with Pope Sylvester III. Nothing if not persistent,Benedict returned with an army and forced poor Sylvester into a monastery. Benedict “Poped” for a year before he grew bored and decided to marry. He agreed to basically sell the Papacy to his Godfather(who becomes Pope Gregory VI)in exchange for money to marry and off he went(again). Benedict soon changed his mind and returned to claim his Papacy,but Gregory wasn’t budging and now Sylvester was poking his nose back into Papal business. Three Popes,we had three Popes and this was just two Popes too many so King Henry III of Germany decided to intervene. Henry called a synod to set things right. Sylvester and Gregory stepped down but Benedict refused to appear and refused to set down. No matter,Henry elected a German Bishop and this became Pope Clement II. Clement crowned Henry Holy Roman Emperor and apparently…..apparently(!)this resolved this mess. Nope. Clement passed away a year later and look who’s back….Yes,it’s Benedict again(Are you still following any of this?). Emperor Henry sent a force into Rome to permanently remove Benedict once and for all in favor of Pope Damasus II. Benedict was brought up on charges of simony(the selling of Church offices)and he was finally excommunicated. He would live through three more Popes before dying in 1055.
When Pope Benedict VIII passed away,he was followed by his younger brother Romanus. Romanus was a secular politician and also a layman. On being “elected” Pope he was ordained in all the offices of the Church up to Bishop in a single day. Pope John XIX did his very best to help along the coming split with the Eastern Church when the Patriarch of Constantinople essentially bribed John to recognize the Patriarch as head of all Christians in the East. John accepted the gifts and was going to go along with this idea until other leading Churchmen and even the Holy Roman emperor told the Pope this was a horrible idea(This would have made the Patriarch of the East equal with the Bishop of Rome). John quickly changed his mind…….but kept all the loot he had been bribed with(the countdown to schism with the Eastern Church inches closer and closer)
The goofy numbering of Popes named John takes another detour after this Pope because after XIX,the number XX is completely skipped for some reason.
In 1012,a war broke out in the Papal States,with many noble families fighting for control. The emerging victor was Alberic,the head of the powerful Tusculum family. His brother,Theophylact,soon became Pope Benedict VIII. Benedict was one the rare instances where a Church layman became Pope(he was ordained after his election). While being more a politician than spiritual man,Benedict was nonetheless a great reformer and while his brother handled government,Benedict took care of the Church. He also was a Pope of action,as he took part and even led forces to suppress in-fighting in the Papal States and personally helped liberate Sardinia(by land and by sea!)from Muslim rule. In 1014,Benedict crowned King Henry II(future Saint)of Germany as the new Holy Roman emperor. Being a reformer,Benedict argued against marriage for the clergy,his reasons being more practical than religious as he was worried Church territories(or property)could be claimed by wives or offspring of clergy. Benedict VIII would be succeeded by his younger brother,who was also a layman,John XIX. Their nephew would go on to follow them both as Pope Benedict IX. Pope Benedict VIII seems like he would have been an imposing figure so I based his look on Sean Connery.
Pope Sergius grew up with perhaps one of the most unfortunate nicknames a kid could be saddled with,”Buccaporci”,which translates to “pig-snout”(poor kid). During Sergius’ reign,Muslims destroyed The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This Church was built on the site of the Crucifixion of Jesus and of his empty tomb. A document drawn up by Pope Sergius called for Muslims to be expelled from the Holy City for this shocking crime,but it’s not for certain if this document was authentic,or if it was a later forgery that appeared 80 years later around the time of the first Crusades.
Pope John XVII was only Pope for 5 months and virtually nothing is known of what he did as Pope. What is known is that he’s the Pope that threw off the numbering of Popes named John. Anti-pope John XVI(997-998)was still considered a legitimate Pope at the time so in this numbering confusion the new John became John XVII. The numbering has never been corrected.
Pope Gregory V was our first German Pope(of which there will be 8 total). Holy Roman emperor Otto III of Germany had been notified of the death of Pope John XV and he knew of just the right replacement,which was his cousin,Bruno of Saxony. Aside from the obvious nepotism and the fact that Bruno was only 24 years old,he actually turned out to be an above average Pontiff during his short reign. Once again though,those pesky Roman nobles took to causing trouble for the new “foreigner” Pope. As soon as the emperor left Rome after the coronation,the nobles ran Gregory out of town and placed their own pope(lower case p) in his place(again!). Gregory kept running the Church in exile while waiting for Otto to return to Rome. He banned the buying of Church offices and also banned clergy for campaigning for the office of the Pope while the current Pope was still alive. Gregory also promoted Gerbert of Aurillac(future Pope Sylvester II)to be Archbishop of Ravenna. Emperor Otto marched back into Rome and after violently putting down the anti-pope and his cronies(violently!Many beheadings and many tongues removed),he restored the Pope back to his rightful place…just in time for Gregory to get terribly ill and pass away unexpectedly.
Pope John XV was an average Pope,susceptible to bribery and flattery,and generally met with a shoulder shrug from the people of Rome. He settled disputes over Papal authority in France and helped with reforms of various monasteries(ho hum usual Pope stuff).Pope John XV’s main claim to fame is that he is the first Pope to officially canonize a Saint. Usually if a person in the Church was to be declared a Saint,this was reserved for the Bishop of the diocese of where that person lived. Time went on and in order to tighten up this process(and to keep local corruption from creeping in),appeals were made to have the Pope be the final arbiter in the canonization process. Ulrich of Augsburg(890-973)would be the first Saint to be declared under this new rule. Various future Popes would further tighten up the canonization rules throughout the next few hundred years.
Whenever a non-Catholic asks me about what a Saint is,I usually just compare it to the baseball Hall of Fame. This is our Cooperstown. The Church itself isn’t actually creating a Saint,but it’s pointing to this man or woman and declaring to the world that this person has lived a life to emulate,a life centered on Christ. A life that all of us are called to live.
Pope John XIV was handpicked by Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Otto was German and as we’ve seen from previous Popes,the Italians did not like having their Holy Fathers picked out by foreigners,regardless if the Pope was Italian or not. Because of this,poor John was unpopular from the start and once Otto II passed away(in the Pope’s arms!),the Roman nobles once again plotted to remove the German’s Pope. Enter Anti-pope Boniface VII. Boniface weaseled his way into the Papacy by murdering Pope Benedict VI a decade earlier and he had been on the run avoiding the emperor ever since. Seeing that Pope John was now vulnerable with the emperor dead,Boniface made his move. Marching a militia back into Rome,he threw John into prison and retook his throne as the sham head of the Church. Shortly after,Boniface had John XIV strangled,making this the second Pope that he was responsible for murdering. The non-noble Roman people were disgusted by all of this and most of all disgusted by Boniface. When he passed away a few months later(natural causes? Poison?)the people took his body,stripped it naked and then dragged it through the streets. His corpse came to rest in front of the Lateran Palace,where the angry mob proceeded to mutilate and dismember it. Boy,when Romans decide to turn on you,they didn’t screw around.
Pope John XIV’s real name was Peter,but since that name is forever off limits in honor of our first Pope,he decided to go with John,which to date,has been the most often used Pope name. (I somehow made John look like Bill Murray but he’s Catholic so it’ll work!)
Pope Benedict VII was elected as a compromise to appease both Roman nobles and German Holy Roman emperor Otto II. Benedict had a quiet Papacy that was unusually peaceful for the time,given the riots and murders that plagued the reigns of previous Popes. Benedict promoted reforms on monasteries and fought simony in the clergy and he also officially excommunicated anti-pope Boniface VII,who was still lurking in the margins,waiting for his chance to reclaim the Papacy.