Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Pope Benedict IX: The man who was pope three times

Pope Benedict IX
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Birth Name: Theophylactus of Tusculum
Born: c. 1012
Papacy: 1) Oct 1032 – Sep 1044; 2) Apr – May 1045 and 3) Nov 1047 – Jul 1048
Died: Dec 1055/Jan 1056

Benedict IX was one of the Catholic Church's less deserving popes. Not only was he one of the youngest men to ever become pope, he was the only person to serve multiple terms as pope. (He served three terms.) To add to his infamy, he is also the only pope to sell the papacy.

Benedict was well-connected. His father was Alberic III, Count of Tusculum and, among his uncles, were Popes Benedict VIII and John XIX who immediately preceded him in the office. His father was able to obtain the office of pope for his son in Oct 1032. There are differing accounts of his birthday with some sources saying he was 19 or 20 years old but other sources put his age at 11 or 12 when he assumed the office. One legend has him running through the halls of the Lateran palace shouting "I am Caesar."

Benedict led a very immoral lifestyle. St. Peter Damian described him as "feasting on immorality." Some accounts describe him as a homosexual, but there is also an account which says that he wished to marry. True or not, he was the first pope to be accused of being homosexual. Perhaps he was bisexual. Whatever his sexual orientation, he held orgies in the Lateran palace. Bishop Benno of Piacenza accused him of "many vile adulteries and murders". In his third book of Dialogues, Pope Victor III wrote that Benedict was guilty of "rapes, murders and other unspeakable acts." He continued, "His life as a pope was so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it."

Things did not always go well for Benedict. In 1036 he was forced to flee Rome but returned with the help of Emperor Conrad II.

Benedict's first term as pope ended in Sep 1044 when those who opposed him forced him to flee Rome again and elected Pope Sylvester III (John, Bishop of Sabina).

In April of 1045 Benedict returned to Rome with his forces and expelled Sylvester although the latter continued to state his claim to be the rightful pope for quite some time. Benedict did not stay pope for very long. In May 1045 his godfather, a pious priest named John Gratian, paid him to resign, allowing Gregory VI to become pope. Benedict may have been motivated to resign because he wanted to marry.

Benedict IX soon changed his mind. He returned to Rome, taking over the until July of 1046. During this time Benedict held the papal throne, but Gregory VI was still recognized as the true pope and, to make matters even more confusing, Sylvester III was still asserting his claim to the papacy.

The German King Henry III intervened in the situation. The Council of Sutri was called in Dec of 1046. It deposed both Benedict and Sylvester and encouraged Gregory to resign because his purchase of the papacy from Benedict was considered simony, a major sin as well as a scandal. Suidger, a German bishop, was crowned pope taking the name Clement II.

Not surprisingly, Benedict did not attend the council and rejected its decision. Clement II died in October of 1047. A month later Benedict seized the Lateran Palace. He was ousted by German troops in July of 1048 and Poppo, Bishop of Brixen was elected as Pope Damasus II with universal recognition. In 1049 Benedict was charged with simony but refused to appear at his trial. He was excommunicated.

What happened to Benedict after this is uncertain. He apparently gave up his claim to the papacy. Pope Leo IX may have lifted the excommunication. Benedict died in either December of 1055 or January of 1056 and was buried in the Abbey of Grottaferrata. According to the abbot, he had repented of his sins.

Little is known of his acts as pope but he did hold two or three synods in Rome and granted a number of privileges to various churches and monasteries. He also ordered Bretislav, Duke of Bohemia, to found a monastery because he had  taken the body of St. Adalbert from Poland. In 1037 he met with Emperor Conrad and excommunicated Heribert, Archbishop of Milan, who had opposed him.

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