DAILY CATHOLIC    TUESDAY     April 20, 1999     vol. 10, no. 77


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      With the end of the fifteenth century we have arrived at a time in Church history that can best be considered a black mark on the glorious 2000 annals of Holy Mother Church. It didn't happen overnight but after a series of abuses by bad popes that preceded Pope Alexander VI who was a paradox of power. Few were as well prepared politically to take over the reins of the Church, but no one was as ostensibly ill-prepared to sit on the throne of Peter for this 214th successor of the first Apostle openly flaunted the sixth and ninth commandments and the vow of celibacy not to mention the sins of pride and avarice. His regime closely parallels the United States' current president today. In regards Alexander VI licentious conduct, the public looked the other way, rationalizing that if he was doing a good job and the economy was good and the Renaissance flourishing, then what did it matter what he did in private life? Sound familiar? Because of this implicit acceptance of his wayward ways and sins, Alexander VI continued unchecked exploiting everyone for his own gains, including his own children who he used as trump cards to achieve kingdoms and riches. In short, he was a poor excuse for a Pope if there ever was one as we shall see over the next few installments.
Installment One-Hundred-one

Pope Alexander VI: The lust for power and prestige
part two

          In the last installment we introduced Pope Alexander VI and the formation of this man who would become the 214th in the line of Popes dating back to Saint Peter. Though the Church has had its share of rascals, few were as licentious as Alexander who was the former Rodrigo de Borgia, a spoiled ladies-man who sired many offspring outside of wedlock. You can imagine the consternation all Christendom felt when he took command of the Church on August 11, 1492. As we intimated in the last installment, he bought his way into the papacy, bribing many a cardinal to vote for him and enlisting the notorious henchman Cardinal Ascanio Sforza to strongarm those who couldn't be bought. By the skin of his teeth Alexander received just barely the two-thirds majority to be elected at the age of 61.

          Alexander was not a neophyte when it came to papal affairs for he had been highly involved in curial responsibilities for thirty-five years prior to that, in fact, much of the debauchery and declining morals and morale that had gone on in the Roman chancery had been perpetrated by him. Because of his own vanity, he ordered a lavish papal coronation, planting many within the crowds lined along the way between St. Peter's and the Lateran to stir up the throng into a frenzy for him. Like the current U.S. President today who possesses many of the traits of Alexander, the latter was one who played to the people and might have been quite a spinmeister had he lived today. Like another former president, Alexander was one who kept a list of his enemies and that included those cardinals who voted against him. Chief on his list was Cardinal della Rovere who would become Pope Julius II. The two would be involved in bitter clashes during Alexander's pontificate. At first Alexander, thanks to the favorable reaction in Rome, seemed to the people to have "turned over a new leaf" and they were willing to accept him as he restored order to Rome and set up four districts to divide the city of Rome and place chosen magistrates over each district. To rule without fear of reprisal, Alexander gave them plenary powers, something uncommon in Church circles. Though the Inquisition had been established, Alexander used it for secular powers, dispensing judgment to keep the papal states in line. Meanwhile, rather than becoming a holy man, he fell back into his wanton ways and abused nepotism even further, appointing his illegitimate son Cesare bishop over several wealthy sees in Spain, even though he was only 18 years-old. On top of that Alexander married his bastard daughter Lucretia several times, each time after the inheritance was secured, a strange fate befalling her spouse. He also increased her powers making her a virtual regent, many coming to call her "Popess Lucretia" for Alexander placed her in charge of Church affairs when he was away from Rome. Alexander also married Cesare's brother Juan to a Spanish princess which gave him the duchy of Benevento which was actually part of a papal state and this was truly a conflict of interest for the riches were going to the family, not to the Church. Further intrigue ensued when Juan was murdered in June 1497. Many suspected Cesare since Juan was Alexander's favorite and there was jealousy on the part of Cesare who was pure evil to put it simply.

          All of these machinations did not set well in Spain nor in France where King Charles VIII challenged Alexander's appointment of Alfonso II, the son of the deceased Ferdinand I as king of Naples. Cardinal della Rovere joined forces with Charles, and, we're sure, goaded the king into taking up arms against Alexander. This Charles did and when he invaded Italy in 1494, spurred on by della Rovere's hatred for the Borgia Pope, called for a council to depose Alexander. Alexander forgot loyalties and religious ties by summoning the aid of one of his enemies, the Turkish Sultan Bayezid II. Talk about strange bedfellows! But, thankfully, the Sultan, too turned his back on this rakish pontiff. Thus Charles took Naples and was ready to take Rome when Alexander, always the shrewd one, worked out an alliance with Charles' enemies to try to surround the French monarch. Realizing he would be better suited to wait and fight another day, Charles returned to France without conquering Rome. In June of 1497, Alexander sent the evil Cesare to Naples as a legate to crown Charles' choice - Frederick of Aragon. Cesare came under heavy criticism for his lustful life and the populace demanded he be defrocked. Thus, Alexander had no choice but to release his bastard son from the cardinalate, but he did send him to France in 1498 as an envoy. Charles had died and the new king Louis XII, who was Charles' son-in-law, sought an annulment from his marriage to Saint Jane of Valois who had been the daughter of King Louis XI who preceded Charles. Charles had arranged the marriage between Jane and Louis, then Duke of Orleans. The latter besmirched Jane's reputation and gave false representation that she had cruelly neglected him. Rather than counter, Jane was a loyal wife, humble and submissive and accepted whatever came her way. Louis bought off Cesare and Alexander granted the king's wish. Jane retired to Borges where she founded the Order of the Annunciation. It was another example of God allowing evil for good. In fact, in a strange twist, it was Alexander who would approve the rule in 1501. It's also interesting to note had Alexander been Pope during the King Henry VIII some thirty years later, England might still be Catholic, but it should also be noted that because of Alexander the foundation had been laid for a mass exodus from a Church which had become too worldly. In short, Alexander's laxity and preference to the king of France alienated those who were not in alliance with the French. A continent-wide schism was just around the corner. Louis lavished Cesare with many gifts, including power under the French flag and this enabled the rogue son of Alexander to conquer Romagna and become duke of the largest province in the papal state. Cesare, with Juan dead, was finally Alexander's pride and joy and Cesare manipulated the poor-excuse-for-a-Pope with every evil bone of his body. Greed was the rule of the day as Cesare set his sites on appropriating the entire papal state as well as central Italy, crushing the centuries-old generations of Roman families.

          To finance this drastic, despicable deed Alexander and Cesare relied on other dastardly deeds. You might say this was the birth of the Mafia for, in something reminiscent of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather", Alexander would stage lavish liturgical celebrations while masterminding the demise of his enemies and those who stood in his or Cesare's way such as the barons and cardinals who stood up to him. Thus through the command of Cardinal Sforza, the Pope's prime minister, countless aristocrats and clergy were were executed swiftly and fiercely. With less and less opposition, the Borgias pressed on. On June 27, 1501 Alexander, trying to play both sides, replaced Federigo, his chief vassal in Naples on the charges that the latter had secretly plotted with the Turks against France. The interesting thing is that this charge was the very same thing Alexander had been guilty of less than a decade before. Alexander split Naples between France and Spain with a clandestine pact called the Treaty of Naples which pleased no one. Cardinals and barons who had not been killed were deposed by Alexander who demanded their properties. They refused, asking for a third party to take possession to assure everything would be in the hands of the Church's jurisdiction, but Alexander refused for he had no intentions of confiscating territories, properties and riches for the Church but for his own greedy ends. One of his great enemies was Cardinal Virginio Orsini who had voted for him and had been the commander of Alexander's papal troops, but abandoned the Pope because of his actions and lack of holiness. Alexander finally cornered Orsini and had him arrested, thrown into the dungeon at Castel Sant'Angelo where, less than two weeks later, the cardinal was dead. Don't believe for a minute it was a natural death.

          All through Europe there were cries for Alexander's head and short of that, to break from the Church. This would have alarmed anyone who was devoted to the Church, but not Alexander who was so consumed with power and a feeling of being invulnerable that he mocked those who called for his deposition. He had eliminated all the threats in the College of Cardinals as well as those barons who opposed him. Only a few remained such as Cardinal della Rovere who wisely kept his distance waiting for his chance. That would not come for another few years after Alexander was dead. Actually, some historians hold that Alexander had held out a psuedo olive branch to della Rovere's ally Cardinal Adriano da Corneto, inviting him to the Vatican for a reconciliation dinner at which were present the Pope's evil son Cesare. They had intended to poison the cardinal's wine cup but, in what could only be called "poetic justice" or, should we say "Divine Justice," someone confused the cups and it is believed both Alexander and Cesare drank from it, but not Cardinal Corneto. There is also speculation that della Rovere had an inside man in the Holy See who warned the Cardinal Corneto and switched the poisonous cups. However these mysterious events transpired, the facts are that Alexander drank heartily of the poison and died that evening of August 18, 1503. Historians claim his body was swollen grotesquely from the toxic substance. Cesare did not die but was never the same after his devious plan backfired and his father was gone, soon any power he enjoyed would be gone as well, thanks to the vindictive nature of della Rovere once he assumed the papacy as Julius II.

          During his eleven year pontificate there is very little good one could say about Alexander, but we will attempt to list some in the next installment when we note his influence on the New World in part three.

    Next issue: Pope Alexander VI: The lust for power and prestige part three

April 20, 1999       volume 10, no. 77


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