Pope Innocent VII: The Pope and the Riddle that riddled Europe: When is a murder not a murder?
With the death of Pope Boniface IX, whose papacy started like dynamite and ended with a fizzle, the Sacred Conclave was handed a difficult task: try to find someone to reignite the spark. They did not have the benefit of history to look back in retrospect on their choice, nor, we suspect, did they truly depend on the Holy Spirit to guide them. Nevertheless, they chose Cardinal Cosimo de' Migliorati as the 204th successor of Peter. He took the name Pope Innocent VII. He had his work cut out for him for when last we left Boniface IX before he died he was waiting for Benedict XIII, the Avignon antipope who had requested a meeting with the Roman pontiff. Due to Boniface's untimely death, that never took place. Though Innocent had agreed in conclave with the rest that whoever was elected would do all in their power to end the Great Schism of the West, for some reason he delayed the meeting with Benedict XIII who had landed at Genoa waiting to be safely conducted to Rome. This delay was due to the fact that his election had not been received as well as he might have thought by the Italians who felt Innocent VII was merely a carbon copy of Boniface. They were right. Though Innocent had a reputation for being a man of stern morals and and austere lifestyle as well as his legal expertise as a papal jurist, his political savvy was on the low rung of the ladder. Thus the people started to riot all over again. Innocent called on the protection and forces of Ladislas, king of Naples, to put down the insurrection and try to exact peace through a peace treaty. Innocent's price was the demand from Ladislaus that he not meet with Benedict XIII. Because Innocent had painted himself into a corner, he showed from the outset that he would be weak like Boniface and this did not set well with the people or the curia for that matter.
Innocent was loyal to a fault. While he had kept his part of the bargain with Ladislaus, the latter had not kept his promise. Instead he saddled Innocent with more terms that truly incensed the people. Though they were not enamored with Innocent, they were even less taken with Ladislaus and greatly feared him. This accelerated when Ladislaus seized Castel Sant'Angelo. Ladislas was firmly entrenched in Rome by now and the people demanded Innocent excommunicate the Neopolitan monarch. Innocent again was painted into a corner and thus issued the interdict before Ladislaus had withdrawn his forces from the papal property. Ladislaus surprised many by agreeing to Innocent's terms this time in return for lifting the interdict. He groveled to the Pope and Innocent recanted, and surprised even more by naming Ladislaus defender and standard bearer of the Church. The populace was in a quandary. All of this political meandering had one effect on the Church - it stopped any progress spiritually throughout Christendom. It also opened the door for dissent that would truly raise its ugly head a century later. Meanwhile, the Great Schism was no closer to being solved than when it started. Even though Innocent had had grandiose plans to restore the Roman University as well as ambitions to concentrate on missions to foreign lands, he was so embroiled in the Italian "polls" and the problems with Ladislas that any chance of abdication by Benedict went out the window when he was spurned after offering to meet. He returned to Avignon incensed for he did not recognize Ladislaus' authority in Naples.
Part of Innocent's downfall was the fact that he did not practice what he preached. His nephew Dudovico Migliorati, in trying to help his uncle, turned vigilante and had eleven of the insurrectionists murdered. Innocent was a jurist himself and knew the law, but rather than bringing his nephew to justice and doing the right thing, he pardoned him. This did not set well with the populace who stormed the Vatican forcing him to flee to Viturbo. From that point on he lost all credibility with the Italian people and quickly word spread. All of Europe was riddled by his nepotism and kowtowing to politically correct rather than morally correct. He was truly a liability in the Church and God could see the damage being done to the faithful, some of whom had either abandoned their faith in frustration or thrown their support behind Benedict XIII. Thus the Almighty mercifully cut short Innocent's papacy on November 6, 1406, just over two years after he had become Pope.
It would be left to his successor Pope Gregory XII to try to clean up the mess as the Church fell further into disarray as we shall see in the next installment: Pope Gregory XII The beginning of the end of the schism.