The Borgias

The Borgias

Lest we forget, it is not a foregone conclusion that only the best possible candidate will be elected pope by the conclave. Back in the 15th century, two conclaves elected the most infamous Borgia popes, Callixtus III and Alexander VI. These guys make even our worst cardinals, and even the worst pedophile priests, pale in comparison. They assassinated rivals, fathered children and elevated them to ecclesiastical offices, lived opulently, stole others blind, and engaged in global politics with a vengeance.

After a strong beginning as pope, reforming the Curia and forbidding simony—- which is, of course, the means by which he had purchased the papacy—- Alexander concentrated his efforts on his primary interests. These were, like Innocent VIII, the acquisition of gold, the pursuit of women, and the interests of his family. However, Alexander made his predecessor look like a rank amateur. He named his son Cesare, then only eighteen, a cardinal, along with the younger brother of his current papal mistress, the even younger Alessandro Farnese. He arranged three marriages for his daughter Lucrezia, skillfully annulling the first, and, through the efforts of Cesare, conveniently making her a widow with the second. Lucrezia often was left in charge of the papacy—- in effect, a regent—- when Alexander was travelling from Rome.

At least there appear to be no Borgias waiting in the wings, but we would do well not to be complacent, thinking that only a holy man will be elected. It doesn’t have to be, but we must pray to the Holy Spirit that it is.