What about bad popes?
Is Pope Francis a bad pope?
Most certainly there have been bad Popes throughout history. Historians would say there have been about 12 Popes out of 266 were morally corrupt.
- Benedict IX was a rotten Pope from 1032-1045 AD. He became Pope in his late teens and early 20's and was running around with many different women. He incited a riot in Rome because the people were fed up with him.
- Probably the worst Pope was Alexander VI (1492-1503). He had several illegitimate children before and during his reign as Pope. He was into bribery, deceit, debauchery and anything else you could imagine.
- Pope Innocent VII (1484-1492) and Pope Leo X (1513-1521) were from the Borgia and Medici families which were kind of like the Sopranos of the middle ages. They were infamous in Italy.
Popes Alexander, Innocent VII, and Leo X contributed significantly to the unrest that led to the Reformation.
The Reformation did not escape many of the same kinds of corruptions that it was accusing Catholic courts of practicing. Martin Luther was disgusted with the conduct of many of fellow Protestants who had authority. Church historian John Laux writes:
...in his own Wittenberg, where Protestant Princes confiscated the wealthiest bishopbrics and monasteries for their own use…while the preachers often suffered the direst want. Irreligiousness, immortality and vices of all sorts flourished...
In a 1545 letter to his wife Martin Luther writes about the Reform...
Let us get out of this Sodom. I prefer to wander about homeless and to beg my bread from door to door than to poison my poor last days by the spectacle of all these disorders. We experience it daily that the people are seven times worse today than ever before under the Papacy; they are more avaricious, more unchaste, more envious, more intemperate, more dishonest... [John Laux, CHURCH HISTORY, p.431]
Some will point to the bad Popes as proof that God did not institute the Papacy with Peter. The Catholic Church claims that its teaching is infallible, but it does not claim that its people are not indefectible. Even Jesus chose a bad disciple, Judas. We don't say "Hey Jesus can't be the Saviour, he had a bad disciple." Ten of the disciples deserted him. What is really amazing regarding the bad Popes is that they stayed silent of issues of faith and morals. They could have defined all kinds of crazy doctrines in the name of their teaching authority, but they didn't. Catholics think this is a testimony in favour of the Papacy. These bad Popes did not define any doctrines. Catholics think this is part of God's infallibility promise. Not only will God direct Popes in their teaching, but He'll also shut them up about dumb (heretical) teaching too. Catholics believe God protected his Church during those periods when there were bad Popes. We believe He meant what He said:
...you are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of Heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (Mat 16:18)
It should be noted that 78 Popes are Canonized Saints and 10 more are beatified, which means they were awesome Popes.
Is Francis a Bad Pope?
Many Catholics, particularly traditionally minded Catholics, wonder if Pope Francis will go down in history as another bad pope. His case quite different from the bad popes discussed above. There is no evidence of moral sin. The discussion is more around the direction he is taking the Church and how that direction relates to the constant tradition of the universal Church and what scripture says.
Pope Francis is rightful hier to the seat of Peter and was validly elected. We love and pray for the Pope. We know the Lord will protect his Church. Nothing will find its way into magisterial documents either via a synod or otherwise, that is inconsistent with scripture or the Church's authoritative teaching on faith and morals. We have a separarate article on how a faithful Catholic can respond to the current turmoil in the Church.
We do not consider ourselves qualified to judge the Pope's intentions. History will do that. However, it's clear to anyone following Pope Francis' appointments, statements and writings that this papacy has been inconsistent, self-contradicting, and confusing. Pope Francis is a perfect example that infallibility of the magisterium has a very narrow definition and does not prevent the church from having a pope with problems. Here's a list of public actions the Pope has taken, good and bad that deserve public comment. We have a list of public actions the Pope has taken that should be considered by those trying to assess this papacy.
- What about the Bad Popes?
- Infallible Pope? Succession, etc...
- Was Peter the rock?
- Did Peter die in Rome?
- Indulgences: buying a ticket to heaven?
- Visible vs. invisible church
- Pope Francis' turbulent papacy
- When did Bishop of Rome become Pope
- Early Eastern Church fathers re: Pope
- If Peter had primacy, why did James make decisions?
- Is Peter the Rock of Matthew 16:18?
- Why did the Pope have a Kingdom?