In 1492 I Left The Old World For The New Roman Catholicism: Why I had to leave PART 4

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Roman Catholicism: Why I had to leave PART 4

There are many stories about the “bad popes” of Roman Catholicism. Although many of them are true, the famous “Papa Joan” story is considered by many to be fiction. Unless you talk to people like Donna Cross, a novelist who after 7 years of research wrote a book about “Papa Joan”. She claims the historical evidence is there. “I would say it’s the weight of the evidence — over 500 chronicled accounts of its existence.”

Another person who seems convinced, although no longer alive, was Martin Polonus, a monk and close adviser to the Pope. In his “History of Emperors and Popes,” Polonus wrote of a young woman from Mainz who learned Greek and Latin and became “skilled in a variety of branches of learning.”

Pope Joan supposedly served as pope until 858. She was said to be a poor German girl from the mud village of Mainz who was taught Christianity by English missionaries. Apparently, she assumed her brother’s identity when he was killed by the Vikings, calling himself John Anglicus (English John) and joined a boys’ monastery called Fulda. She disguised herself as a monk to be with her cleric lover in Rome, where she so impressed others with her Christian teachings that she—still impersonating a monk—was eventually elected pope. With ambition and nerve, the Englishman John became a cardinal’s secretary, and then, as Polonus writes, “everyone’s choice for pope” in AD 855.

The jig was up when she gave birth during a procession where she and the baby were killed. Other accounts say that she was sent to a convent and that her son grew up and later became bishop of Ostia. The “experts” are torn as to the legitimacy of the story. Amazingly, future popes for 100 years avoided that terrible path—a very direct one—after returning to the Vatican. Polonus writes: “Mr. Pope always turns out of the way … because of the abomination of the event.”

If you travel to Italy and ask questions about Pope John, many will point you to clues embedded in art, literature, and architecture.

Renaissance poet Giovanni Boccaccio, best known for writing The Decameron, also wrote a book on 100 Famous Women. Number 51 on his list? Pope John. Rare book dealers in Rome pull ancient tarot cards from their shelves. The card for hidden knowledge is called “La Papessa” – The Female Pope. To the north, in Siena, is the Duomo, where inside the cathedral is a gallery of terracotta busts depicting 170 popes, in no particular order. In the 17th century, Cardinal Baronuis, the Vatican librarian, wrote that one of the faces was a woman — Joan the Female Pope. He also wrote that when the Pope at the time decreed that the statue be destroyed, the local archbishop could not bear to see a good statue go to waste. “The statue was transformed,” believes Donna Cross. “…literally, her [the name, John Anglicus] it was scratched…” and “Papa Zakari” was written in its place.

In the basilica in St. Peter’s Square are the engravings of Bernini, one of the most famous artists of the 17th century. Among the carvings are eight images of a woman wearing a papal crown, each face increasingly distorted as if it were a woman in labor. Seven of the carved images appear to tell the story of a woman giving birth, the eighth is the unmistakable carving of a smiling baby.

Many other papal stories are undoubtedly true. In many cases, the sins of the flesh were the least of their publicized sins. In the Middle Ages, many popes rose to office after their predecessors were assassinated. During a particularly sad period of papacy (882-1046), there were 37 popes, some of whom served less than a month. For example, Leo V (903) had been pope for only a month before he was imprisoned and tortured by Christopher, who then ascended the throne. Both men were killed in 904 by order of Pope Sergius III (904-911). That pope later had a son by his teenage mistress Marozia, who became Pope John XI (931-935). In 914, according to one chronicler, Marozia’s mother, Theodora, placed her lover on the papal throne, as John X (914-928). (Theodora and Marozia effectively controlled the papacy through their lineage and, some say, may be the source of the Pope John stories.) John XII (955-963), who became pope at age 19, was accused, perhaps falsely, of sleeping with his father’s mistress, committing incest with his niece, and castrating a deacon. “The popes … killed each other, beat each other to death,” says Mary Malone, a former Catholic nun. “There were 12-year-old popes… we have knowledge of a 5-year-old archbishop… It was a very strange time in history.”

In later years, murder gave way to bribery as the road to the “Roman Road”. About 40 popes are believed to have bought their jobs at the Vatican. But the poor attitude towards celibacy remained unchanged. In large part this happened because the Roman Catholic Church was an important route to wealth and power. Sons of influential families were pushed into Church careers, just as a rich and powerful Ivy League Alumni might pull some strings to get their child to their Alma Mater. Nobles with mistresses saw no reason to adjust their lifestyle just because they had taken spiritual vows. Sadly, even today, many ministers of all faiths see their position as a job rather than a profession; a call from God himself.

Cardinals and popes getting their relatives cushy jobs in the Vatican were the source of many jokes in Rome for centuries. Innocent VIII (1484-1492) had a son and a daughter living with him in the Vatican. The infamous Alexander VI (1492-1503), born Rodrigo Borgia, had at least four illegitimate children while still a cardinal, among them the deep-seated Cesare Borgia and the notorious poisoner Lucrezia Borgia. Clement VII (1523-1534), himself illegitimate, had a son whom he tried to make duke of Florence. Paul III (1534-1539) had four children; made two teenage grandsons cardinals. Pius IV (1559-1565) had three children, and so on, ad nauseam. As for the papal children and their holy fathers, there is a tradition that Pope Hormisdas (514-523) was the father of Pope Silverius (536-537). It may not be appropriate to call Silverius illegitimate, since the rule of clerical celibacy was not firmly established in the early Church. Exactly how many “holy fathers” there were is probably impossible to determine, due to the lack of documentation for such things.

The Catholic Church has been quite open about these evil popes, opening the Vatican archives to historians in the 19th century. The Church acknowledges that the office was held by unworthy men, but maintains that their papal functions were unimpaired by their incarnation, something we hear more often about politicians. Unfortunately, the doctrine of papal infallibility only applies to certain formal statements of faith and morals, so it is argued that bad popes did not lead the church astray. Regarding papal infallibility, the Encyclopedia Britannica states: “The definition of the first Vatican Council … defines the conditions under which a pope can be said to have spoken infallibly, or ex cathedra. It is a prerequisite that the pope intends to seek the irrevocable approval of the whole church on some aspect of faith or morals”. Rather, the Church’s ordinary teachings are not infallible. The pope can say what he likes about birth control, for example, and Catholics are bound to obey. , at least from the conservative point of view. But until he makes an unmistakable statement on the subject, there’s a chance he might one day change his mind.

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