Pope Innocent VI: The road from Avignon is often paved with good intentions.
With the death of Pope Clement VI many of the cardinals were hopeful they could unite by forming a pact in which whoever among the clonclave was elected would automatically set in motion that no more cardinals would be elected until the ranks fell below sixteen. In addition, the pact called for a two-thirds majority in the selection of new cardinals as well as half of all revenues to the Holy See going to the cardinals as first proposed by Pope Nicholas IV back in 1289. Greed and materialism ruled the roost during these times within the Curia, as the lavishness at Avignon had softened many. Cardinal Etienne Aubert, an old, balding French prelate and member of the College of Cardinals agreed to the pact but when he was elected on December 18, 1352 he renegged on his agreement, declaring the pact null and void and not in alignment with papal procedures. Rather than mollifying the cardinals he turned the Avignon courts from the opulent trappings Clement VI had been known for to a spartan-like atmosphere, much to the chagrin of the rest of the conclave who, in retrospect, were kicking themselves for selecting him. Yet, in a strange way his election helped clean up a lot of the corruption within the Church among the cardinals. If only Aubert had been a little more strict on himself, his papacy would have been memorable for cleaning up corruption. He chose the name Pope Innocent VI, 199th successor of Peter and thought nothing of nepotism, offering many of the choice positions to relatives, much to the chagrin of the other bishops. But, to their credit, they realized the inherent dangers of mounting any kind of campaign against him for it would weaken the Church at a time when she needed to refortify. The coffers had been diminished greatly and thus Innocent extracted additional taxes from the dioceses and parishes as well as secular circles in order to build up the material treasury of the Holy See. Innocent reasoned that by cutting back the extravagance at Avignon it would also show the papacy was doing their part as well. He also set exact stipends for bishops and priests so that all could be accounted for in an accute papal budget. In addition, Innocent dispatched one of his most trusted curia appointees and skilled military lieutenants to establish control of the Papal States by taking back these lands and privileges from petty dukes and princes who were bickering amongst themselves. Through the military prowess of his hand-picked Cardinal Gil de Albornoz at the head of the Papal Army, the Papal States were once again under the rule of the Holy See. To assure their protection, Innocent VI also drew up an agreement with the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV that called for the latter to march into Rome as a show of force and then leave as quickly as he had come. It was all form, with little function. What Innocent was functional in was his strong zeal to reform the lax religious orders with no favorites among the Dominicans, Franciscans or Benedictines. In fact, he abused his own office by personally using the Inquisition to persecute the Franciscan Spiritualists and anyone who would speak out against him either personally or as Pope. This was another reason his fellow cardinals kept a low profile. His methods were so rigid and harsh that Saint Bridget of Sweden, who had begged Clement VI to return to Rome, labeled Innocent as a "persecutor of Christ's flock."
What many failed to realize was that Innocent was making plans to return the papacy to Rome. Even though he was French, he had already reversed Clement's interdict of Cola di Rienzo, the populist tribune of Rome, in order to patch up differences between the Romans and French papacy. Add to this the toll of the French-English war and the rebellion of many in France who were migrating to Avignon and hounding the papal palaces there looking to share in the wealth through theft and squatting. Thus Clement sought to escape this "nuisance" by returning to Rome. But the climate in Rome and the power-mongering by Charles of Bavaria with the publishing of his Golden Bull made things more difficult. Charles' bull specifically omitted any reference to the Pope's right to approve and crown the German kings. Rather than taking Charles to task for this direct affrontatation to the papacy, he retreated back to Avignon, opting to refortify the fortress of Avignon to keep the intruders away. Around the time Innocent had been elected Pope a young girl turned in Siena, Italy was just reaching the age of reason. It would be twenty-four years later that reason would win out and that young lady would convince a Pope named Gregory XI, to return the papacy once and for all to Rome after seventy years in exile. That woman would be Saint Catherine of Siena whose role we shall focus on in future installments. Meanwhile Innocent was plunged into political intrigue and the bitter skirmishes between French and English on French soil. Just when it looked like Innocent's advances had made a breakthrough and peace was on the horizon, the Black Prince of Poitiers captured King John II of France and fighting resumed in 1354. In 1360, Innocent helped ratify a truce at Bordeaux and Bretigny, but it would be only fleeting as war would soon resume in all its fury. To add to Innocent's chagrin, his papal armies had run up huge debts in Italy during their military campaigns and the taxes were not coming in. Thus he was forced to sell off even more papal treasures at Avignon. That same year, Avignon was overrun by freeloaders or the "free company" who cut off all communication between Avignon and the rest of the world. Living in a virtual vacuum, Innocent bought them off in order to get them to back off and be able to restore contact with the rest of the Christian world. But the cost was great for he had depleted much of the wealth of Avignon and he died a broken man, despondent over his failure to return the papacy to Rome and to exact a change in the direction of the Church because of his inability to correctly handle the Inquisition or gage the political compass in these turbulent times. On September 12, 1362, old and decrepit and broken, he passed away. It was left to the sixth and seventh of the Avignon Popes to restore a papacy badly wracked by war and dissent. Those men would be Blessed Pope Urban V and Pope Gregory XI whom we shall see in the next two installments when we resume with this on-going megaseries in 1999.