When Harlots Ruled the Church

In the sometimes dark history of the papacy, nothing matches the sheer lurid thuggery of the Pornocracy (904-932), which was marked by scandal, depravity, lust, murder, nepotism, and treachery.

Saint Peter statue outside the Basilica, Vatican, Rome. (Image: Fr. Barry Braum/Unsplash.com)

Here a scandal, there a scandal, and pretty soon you’re talking real depravity. As the Church shudders almost daily from new stories of corruption, the faithful wonder if this is the worst ecclesiastical era ever. If not, when were things worse? Was it during the Renaissance, that apogee of luxurious vice? Yet sin-sodden prelates funded great art and Alexander VI contributed his genes—albeit illicitly—to St. Francis Borgia. Or was it during the Babylonian captivity of the papacy at Avignon (1309-1377) when simony and favoritism were so rife, people joked that even a donkey could get a benefice? But the weak popes of Avignon were not a lustful lot and one of them (Urban V) was actually beatified.

The seeds of the Pornocracy

Those times were indeed infamous. But for me, nothing matches the sheer lurid thuggery of a more obscure time: the Pornocracy. Strictly speaking, the term Pornocracy (from Greek meaning “rule of harlots) refers to the years 904-932 when sluttish ladies of the Theophylact family held absolute dominion in Rome. But to savor the full depravity of the era, I will begin earlier to show how the seeds of evil fruit were sown.

Those seeds seemed innocent at first. Beginning in 750, Pope St. Zacharias allowed the Carolingian dynasty to oust the “do-nothing” Merovingians as Kings of the Franks. He and his successors formed a mutually beneficial partnership with the new regime. They got the lands that became the Papal States (754) and the right to choose rulers. The Frankish kings got imperial rank when Charlemagne was crowned Emperor of the Romans (800) and assumed the right to certify Papal elections. Each partner fancied itself dominant. The promising arrangement soon turned into one of those Altar and Throne rivalries that would bedevil the Church for more than a thousand years.

Able and energetic popes, however, still had room to act. As supreme authority in the West, St. Nicholas I the Great (858-867) forced a Carolingian prince to leave his mistress and take back his lawful wife. (Previous popes had never fussed about Merovingian polygamy or Charlemagne’s concubines.) But Nicholas’ zeal for excommunication also provoked the Photian Schism with Byzantium (865). The aggrieved Patriarch Photius lobbed the same penalty back at the pope (867). The breach wasn’t papered over until 879.

There was nowhere to go but down. The reign of the next pope, Hadrian II (867-872), began with the Duke of Spoleto sacking Rome. Hadrian’s daughter was raped and murdered along with her mother by the papal librarian’s brother. Hadrian’s successor John VIII (872-882) was imprisoned briefly by the same hostile Duke. Later, John was poisoned and clubbed to death by his own staff. Violence would become endemic in the papal realm.

Charlemagne’s direct male line ended with the death of his feeble great grandson Charles the Fat (888). Meanwhile, Europe was battered by new waves of barbarians—Norsemen, Saracens, Magyars, and Slavs. As these hammer blows smashed at Charlemagne’s decaying empire, petty rulers fought over the moldy crumbs of power. Historian James Bryce remarks, “The crown had become a bauble with which unscrupulous popes dazzled the vanity of princes whom they summoned to their aid.”

The Corpse Synod and further troubles

Rivalry among would-be emperors and their ties with political factions in Rome led to the most bizarre episode in the entire history of the papacy—the Corpse Synod. Its victim was Pope Formosus (891-96), an austere man of personal rectitude, who had been bishop of Porto in Italy before his election to the papacy. Although Formosus had been forced to crown Lambert of Spoleto co-emperor in 892, he switched his support to Arnulf of Germany and crowned him after Lambert proved to be a tyrant as overlord of Rome. Arnulf fled, Formosus died, and Lambert ruled once more.

Although formerly a partisan of Arnulf, Pope Stephen VI/ VII (896-897) made peace with his new master. Then he wreaked ghastly revenge on his hated predecessor. Stephen had the rotting cadaver of Formosus exhumed, clothed in pontifical vestments, and put on trial with himself as judge. While a deacon answered for the dead man, Formosus was convicted of perjury, ambition, and breaking canon law by transferring from the See of Porto to the See of Rome. The guilty pope’s body was stripped, mutilated, and thrown in the Tiber. All his official acts, including ordinations, were ruled null and void. During the trial, an earthquake toppled the cathedral of St. John Lateran—an ill omen to the people of Rome. Formosus’ remains were retrieved and secretly reburied.

Within months, a popular uprising cast Stephen into prison where he was strangled. Lambert died in a hunting accident the next year (898). Clashes between pro and anti-Formosus parties kept Rome in turmoil for seven years while five popes and one antipope reigned. Finally, Sergius III (904-911) an implacable enemy of Formosus, seized the papacy at sword’s point and had his last two predecessors strangled “out of pity.” He also reinstated the condemnation of Formosus that previous popes had lifted.

One decision further embittered relations between the Eastern and Western halves of the Church. Sergius overrode Greek canon law by permitting the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise to contract an illegal fourth marriage with his mistress, Zoe of the Coal Black Eyes. The patriarch who objected was deposed and exiled.

The Rome that Sergius ruled retained only the shredded husk of its ancient glory. Its entire economy depended on the Church. At least pilgrims, traveling clerics, and the relic trade brought in enough income to fund a few church repairs. Finances fluctuated because each time a pope died, a mob looted the papal palace. But in that darkest of centuries, Rome and the papal territories still made a prize worth coveting. Grasping hands were already well placed to seize it.

The House of Theophylact

Those hands belonged to the House of Theophylact, a ruthless family of Roman nobles who would make and unmake popes for more than a hundred years. Theophylact’s name first appears on a list of judges in 902. He acquired the exclusive titles Consul and Senator of the Romans and was also Keeper of the Papal Robes, General, Master of Soldiers, and governor of Ravenna. Even an enemy called him “The Lord of the One City.”

Theophylact and his ambitious wife, Theodora, became Pope Sergius’ closest allies and coziest friends, especially after their fifteen-year-old daughter Marozia bore Sergius a son, the future Pope John XI. After Sergius died of natural causes, Theophylact put two innocuous puppets on St. Peter’s Chair. Then Theodora took her turn as pope-maker by having her reputed lover installed as John X (914-928).

John brought new energy and ability to his office. Fighting alongside Theophylact and Marozia’s husband Alberic of Spoleto, John led a coalition that destroyed a long entrenched Muslim stronghold at Garigliano (915). He settled disputes in Frankish dioceses, restored unity with the Byzantines, and finished restoring St. John Lateran. But trying to assert more independence after Theophylact died (ca. 920), drew the wrath of the now widowed Marozia. Alberic had died violently, either lynched by the Roman mob or cornered and slain in one of his fortresses (925). Marozia had John’s influential brother killed in front of him at the Lateran (927). The following year, she and her new husband Guido of Tuscany had John deposed and murdered in prison, perhaps by suffocation.

Marozia, senatrix et patricia, reigned supreme in Rome. She installed feeble pontiffs Leo VI and Stephen VII as placeholders until her bastard son John XI could be elected as an even more pliant tool (931-935). Perhaps at his mother’s urging, John outraged the Byzantines by letting the Emperor Romanus I the Lion-Slayer install his thirteen-year-old son as Patriarch of Constantinople (932). With Guido conveniently dead, Marozia had John celebrate her third marriage to Hugh of Provence, king of Italy and Guido’s half-brother. (Neatly avoiding charges of incest, Hugh pretended that Guido was an adopted rather than biological son of their mother.) Hugh expected to be crowned emperor soon after.

But during the wedding festivities Hugh insulted Marozia’s son from her first marriage, Alberic II, by demanding that he serve them at table. When the lad refused, Hugh slapped his face. So Alberic incited the Roman mob to storm the Castle Sant’Angelo, home to the newlyweds. Hugh barely escaped with his life; Marozia was never seen again. Alberic treated John as a virtual slave, confining him to sacramental functions only.

Calling himself Prince and Senator of All the Romans, Alberic ruled Rome as a benevolent tyrant (932-954) who restored much needed order to the city. After repelling three invasions by Hugh of Provence, Alberic married Hugh’s daughter Alda to seal the peace. He appointed four worthy, reform-minded men to the papacy. One of these, Stephen VIII (942-946), foolishly turned against Alberic. For his treachery, he was deposed and fatally mutilated. As he neared death, Alberic forced the current pope, nobles, and clergy of Rome to swear that they would make his bastard son Octavian the next pope.

John XII, Leo VIII, and Benedict V

This highly uncanonical plan made an eighteen-year-old boy both pope and prince in 955 under the name John XII. Contemporary sources say that he turned the papal palace into “an abode of riot and debauchery.” Threatened by military reverses and a grumbling city, John invited Germany’s King Otto I the Great to come down and protect him. Otto obliged. In return, John anointed Otto and his queen Adelaide Emperor and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire in 962. Imperial grants expanded papal territories to cover almost two-thirds of Italy.

But no sooner had Otto left Rome than John began intriguing with his former enemies against Otto. The irate emperor returned to put John on trial before an assembly of clergy, nobility, and even a representative of the common people. The charges against John included: saying Mass invalidly, neglecting the Divine Office, ordaining a deacon in a stable, simony, adultery, incest, hunting, blinding and mutilating priests, wearing armor, invoking pagan gods, and turning “the holy place into a brothel and a resort for harlots.” After two refusals to appear, John was deposed and replaced with a reputable layman, Leo VIII (963-965), who had to be rushed through holy orders in a single day.

John had been deposed, but he continued to scheme. After Otto departed, he exploited Leo’s unpopularity to get himself reinstated and Leo’s election annulled. But John enjoyed his restoration for only a few months. He died in the bed of a married woman, either of apoplexy or a blow from her cuckolded husband (964).

Refusing to take Leo back, the people of Rome elected Benedict V (964). Otto had the troops to enforce his will. Leo returned, had Benedict stripped of his papal vestments, and with his own hands broke Benedict’s pastoral staff over his head. Benedict died in humble exile (966). But Leo’s death (965) unleashed new rounds of scandal, corruption and violence that would roil the papacy for the next eighty years until German Emperor Henry III imposed a quartet of reforming German popes beginning with Clement II (1046-1049). It will come as no surprise that the two noble factions behind Rome’s long-running misery, the Crescentii and the Tusculans, were descended from Theophylact via his daughters Theodosia II and Marozia.

Caveats and Conclusion

So, what did it all mean, besides generating titillating tales of lurid vice? The impact of this era has long been debated by historians. Some like Edward Gibbon relish the scandals to mock the Church. Others, like French Catholic scholar Henri Daniel-Rops would rather not deal with it. Walter Ullmann, a magisterial authority on the history of papal power, concluded that the Pornocracy had little appreciable effect on its institutional development.

Before offering my own thoughts, here are a few caveats. First, the lascivious ladies of clan Theophylact were not actually porneia (prostitutes) and they were hardly the only ambitious and immoral women of their time. Had the Theophylacts not seized power, others would have done so. The dynasty’s unique contribution to the iniquities of their time was their demoniacal energy. They were able, brilliant, unscrupulous, and ruthlessly devoted to the interests of their house. They did not cause the decline of the papacy; they merely exploited what was already happening.

Secondly, popes in the “Age of Lead and Iron” were not necessarily worse than many other bishops and clerics of the West in the Dark Ages but Rome generated more records. The laity was as just corrupt as the clergy. Each status enabled the other’s vices. Although the Theophylacts specialized in adultery, sexual sins of the day came in all flavors, as St. Peter Damien catalogues in his Book of Gomorrah (1051).

Thirdly, given the slowness of communications, the rest of Christendom had great difficulty learning what was happening in Rome or judging the accuracy of what they heard. Bishops routinely defied popes or simply ignored their existence–unless privileges were being granted. Regardless conditions in Rome, despite scandals in it own ranks, the papal chancery whirred along drafting documents. Papal bureaucrats functioned better than popes.

In conclusion, how did this dismal period make a difference? Before, during, and after the Pornocracy, Constantinople drifted into cynical indifference toward Rome. Awareness of scandals merely reinforced and justified the East’s low opinion of the barbarous West. This rift widened into complete rupture in the Great Schism of 1054. Note that this occurred under St. Leo IX, third of the reforming German popes imposed by Emperor Henry III. The last twigs of the Theophylact lineage had been snapped off eight years earlier.

Long-term papal challenges didn’t begin or end with the Theophylacts. When Pope Leo III crowned Charlemagne Emperor of the Romans (800), he unwittingly heightened tensions between Church and State. Did the pope choose emperor or the emperor the pope? Who could depose whom? How much power did the papacy have—or should have? What role did the people and clergy of Rome have in papal elections?

Different answers were tested during the following centuries. Anarchy, lay control, and imperial intervention taught the papacy that undisputed temporal power was the only guarantee of its independence. All other centers of power had to be curbed. Thus, conflicts were kindled that would flare and smolder until the loss of the Papal States in 1870. Providentially, the papacy won by losing. Christ’s Kingdom was not of this world; neither should his Vicar’s be.

My purpose in writing this essay was to argue that a Church that survived the Age of Lead and Iron can survive whatever horrors our present era inflicts. There’s delicious irony in the favor that Marozia’s worthless son John XI and other Pornocrats showed to the Burgundian abbey of Cluny, wellspring of Church reform for the next two centuries. God does write straight with very, very, crooked lines.


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About Sandra Miesel 23 Articles
Sandra Miesel is an American medievalist and writer. She is the author of hundreds of articles on history and art, among other subjects, and has written several books, including The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code, which she co-authored with Carl E. Olson, and is co-editor with Paul E. Kerry of Light Beyond All Shadow: Religious Experience in Tolkien's Work (Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 2011).

51 Comments

  1. Ah, nothing quite like putting the current troubles into historical perspective, with appropriate scholarly credentials.

  2. “Then Theodora took her turn as pope-maker by having her reputed lover installed as John X (914-928).”

    I looked up Pope John X in the Catholic Encyclopedia (at newadvent.com).
    “The real head of this aristocratical faction was the elder Theodora, wife of the Senator Theophylactus. Liutprand of Cremona… affirms that Theodora supported John’s election in order to cover more easily her illicit relations with him. This statement is, however, generally and rightly rejected as a calumny. Liutprand wrote his history some fifty years later, and constantly slandered the Romans, whom he hated. At the time of John’s election Theodora was advanced in years, and is lauded by other writers (e.g. Vulgarius). John was a relative of Theodora’s family, and this explains sufficiently why she secured his election.”

    So there was really no reason to include that statement in the article.

  3. “…a Church that survived the Age of Lead and Iron can survive whatever horrors our present era inflicts.”

    Yes, but not to be discounted is the novelty of our time….History records the pushing contest between Church and State, often as exercised by dynasties (families) of ruthless power and corrupt ambition. But, today, we endure mind games and even redefinition of the terms of this historic equation:

    (a) the state now as the “church” of Secular Humanism,
    (b) the perennial Church as a synodal process apparently disjointed from any consistent dogmatic and moral immune system, and
    (c) an entirely new twist with the traditional Family as a residual and barely tolerated variant of pandemic gender theory.

    The identity of the Church as assembled by the Eucharist, viz, what it IS rather than simply what it does (and with Eucharistic coherence), is entangled by parliamentary (!) maneuvers of delay and sophomoric word games (the “weaponizing” thingy).

    Lead and Iron are one thing; the fluidity of a total meltdown is another. At least Babel was a tower rather than a swamp.

    • Yes. Nothing irks me more than to hear Catholics rationalizing the current state of affairs by saying “Oh, look at all those bad popes the Church had to endure –we’ll be just fine.” As if those sins of the flesh can compare to the complete institutional apostasy we are witnessing today. How many of those “bad popes” tried to abolish the Mass? How many of those worldly bishops tried to substitute a false gospel for the true? Catholics need to take the blinders off. We are in a new situation entirely. Knee-jerk responses are not helpful.

    • The analogy of tower and swamp is true and apt.

      I would add that Eucharistic coherence should not neglect a note of WHO the Eucharist is.

      Else all is naught, and we may as well stay locked at home with cake and ice cream ordered in, paid for by some future chimeric CRISPR robot conceived in a test tube from DNA harvested then centrifuged from an infinite number of polyglotinous transgendered pope-whores only too glad to sacrifice for the sake of science, history, and the future posterity of any creatures still of life in a swamp polluted by their ancestors.

      FWIW, I had a nightmare last night.

    • P.S.: I couldn’t help but note that the Pope in Rome today or yesterday or whenever the time suited him so, asked for prayers for the Church. Apparently he has no sense of indecency.

  4. An excellent summary of a most difficult and costly time for the Church. But God always wins and everything is ordered to Him and by Him! Even the current dogs dinner has glories that are to come! Don’t forget whose heart is going to triumph?????!!!!!

  5. And, in light of this history of the Papacy during the 9th and 10th centuries, there are those who today are accustomed to reminding us that it is the Holy Spirit who is at work in the election of every successor to St. Peter. That kind of thinking certainly tests credibility.

    • Fully agree. Overcoming decadence in bygone eras does not solace me, especially when succeeding eras are also replete with sin and sacrilege. Today’s clerical depravities may not be as violent or rampant, but they also betray egregiously the promise of the Church. As a woman, it refuels resistance to an all male hierarchy more strongly than ever.

      • The theory that one cause of increasing numbers of homosexuals is due in part to the rampantly rabid feminist movement. Men didn’t know what women expected, hoped, or wanted from them. Men need women to ‘reign’ them while they rule. When women began to demand rule and became rulers of their feminity (or not) and fertility, men lost their authority or reason to rule. Such a loss and subsequent insecurity could well lead to perpetual adolescence and love of one’s self reflection in one just like oneself. And of course, homosexual sex carries no responsibility to a potential shrew and perhaps a child or two or more.

        The all-male celibate priesthood is theologically best as women cannot fulfill the image of God ‘in persona Christi” as a man may. Jesus’s celibacy and his chosing men as apostles was the divinely human best example. Women in the hierarchy would only add imprudent fuel to the fire of unchastity and immorality in the priesthood.

  6. Thankyou Sandra. Such an interesting insight into ecclesial history; so nicely presented and applied to contextualize our current miserable ecclesial chaos.

    I’d want to add Theodora’s promotion of the Monophysite heresy and her avid support of heretical clergy [see Eamon Duffy (1997). ‘Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes’. Yale University Press.]

    Our lesson, then and today? Seek after Jesus Christ, listen to The Word of God, and follow, sheep-like, The Great Shepherd of God’s flock. Jesus will give you eternal life, you will never perish, and no one will be able to snatch you from God’s hands (John 10:27-30). It is that that has kept and still keeps the Church afloat, despite the many scandals of clerical corruption. Blessings from Marty

    • Who is ‘The Great Shepherd of God’s flock’ you recommend we follow, sheep-like? I’m lost and have been looking for him. Some tell me he’s in Rome, but I traveled there and bleeted everywhere. He was nowhere to be found.

      • Thanks, dear Meiron.

        In the apostolic record, Jesus Christ answers you: “Close, and even within you” (e.g. Matthew 10:7; Luke 17:21). Apostle Paul says, if we haven’t found King Jesus Christ in our heart, then we are not yet Catholic Christian (2 Corinthians 13:5). Without the Holy Spirit in us (Romans 8:9) we have nothing of Jesus Christ. It is the Holy Spirit who teaches us all things and reminds us of all that Christ has commanded us to do. We are shepherded most intimately.

        What need then for the Ecclesia with Pope, Curia, Bishops, and so on?

        1. As appointed repository of the infinitely valuable apostolic revelation;
        2. As anointed teachers of those seeking salvation and sanctification;
        3. As dispensers of good order among the millions of Catholic men and women of every nation, at various stages in their seeking of the Great Shepherd and His way.

        When we get ‘on track’ as Catholics, our indispensable inner shepherding by Christ, works in harmony with the outer shepherding by the Church, so we all become present to the worldwide community as The Body of Christ.

        More than with any other human organization, this obedient unity under King Jesus Christ has been and still is assaulted on every side and subverted from within in every possible way. So, dear Meiron, we must make up our minds: “Does incessant opposition disprove the Gospel; or, is it the confirming, allergic reaction of a rebellious world to the one Way, Truth, and Life eternal.”

        Thanks for responding. Ever in the love of Jesus Christ; blessings from Marty

    • Sorry, Dr. Martin, you’ve got the wrong Theodora. The promoter of Monophysitism was the 6th C. Byzantine Empress Theodora who actually had been an actress/ prostitute. The Theophylacts had no interest in theology, only power.

      • Hello It is a Big pleasure to Read This Interesting article about the porncracy. A long time ago that i have especial interest for meeting (virtually) with Sandra E. Miesel. Not only for her Big knowledge of the history also for her love for the science fiction. I would have liked that she met to my friend the writer Manuel Alfonseca other lover of the science fiction. I can not give his mail because This would be better doing in a private message.
        We currently are in a Goodreads group called Catholic Book Club i invite to Mss. Miesel and Mr. Olshon to visit us if they want to do It although i suppose that they Will be very busy (at This moment we are discussing about Characters of the Reformation by Hilaire Belloc).
        We can obtain a value lesson of This article period of crisis and bad moments produce a more sinful Church, because It is part of the world, however we must have Hope because the strenght of the inferno Will not be able to destroy It. Despite of the bad priests, bishops, and Popes we Will survive us. Saint Anthony of Padua said that the fish is the only creature Who syrvives to the flood 😁.
        There is a very Interesting Pope that Mss.Miesel did not quite Sylvester II a very Interesting Pope elected by the grandson of Otto I, (Otto III).
        About Theodora It was a typical greece and Rome was Under Byzantium influenced until the arrival of Longbeards, and Franks (the carolingean Dinasty) for This reason there are This quantity of Theodoras there was other Emperess Who finish with the Iconclastic heresy (the destructors of images).

        • Thank you for the kind words. I wrote about Catholic sf writers a while back for CWR, if you care to look it up.
          But I have no kind words for Belloc’s CHARACTERS OF THE REFORMATION. It’s just a piece of polemical writing, not history. With are so many excellent recent histories of the period, ignore Belloc. Try REFORMATIONS by Catholic historian Carlos Eire, the best survey I’ve read.

          • Oh i Read It your famous article of Science Fiction since This moment i have followed your Career with a Big interest Mss. Miesel. In the case i regret that we disagree, indeed Belloc is One of my favorite authors and i would like that him and G.K. Chesterton had more presence in the universities especially spanish universities. However i Will keep in my mind. It is a Big pleasure for me meeting you Mss. Miesel and i cheer up of coinciding with Mr. Olson again. It is a pity that my friend Alfonseca had not joined to us.

          • Hello i regret posting a new post not for i do not want to post. It is because i think that i would be a bit heavy. I admit that i wished a bit more of “Characters of the Reformation” some Characters Might improve, especially the not English Characters of the Reformation but Mss. Miesel must admit that when Belloc wrote his books still the historiography tides are not defined. Henri Pirenne and his history is not different as Belloc’s method. Besides be merciful with me i am From a country, where for instance we have followed the Annales of Lefebvre and Marc Bloch, the marxist historiography, Cliometry, Microhistory and other historical tendencies that thanks to the Lord are not so relevant. Unfortunatelly in Spain books as the Professor Eire are not translated. It is One of the reasons because i appreaciate her articles because It let me to know more new historians. I have been seeing the profile of Mr. Eire in Goodreads, although he has few books These look very Interesting. It is a pity that the members of Catholic World Report can not be with us in Goodreads in the group Catholic Book Club you would make that the discussion was more Interesting https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/180923-the-catholic-book-club I suppose that you are very busy but if you let me i drop the gauntlet in case that you are interested in picking Up It. I am a Big admirer of Catholic World Report and i have collected all editions of the best books that i have Read, even when they started in Ignatius Press. I Will write in the discussion about my intervention here i Will write about Mr. Carlos Eire. I also like your fascination for the norse civilizations Mss. Miesel. I wish my friend the Professor Manuel Alfonseca joined to the discussion i wrote a message writing about This. If you are interested in science i recomend his blog Divulciencia https://divulciencia.blogspot.com/?m=1 his articles are in English and Spanish i would be enchanted to write a bit more of the pornocracy but i think that i would get bore with my intervention, besides i must write to the Professor Manuel Alfonseca in Spain there was a novel about This topic but It is not very good It calls The Venus Gospel. I say no more i say that the best Catholic writer of Spain is Juan Manuel de Prada and i would recomend the spanish digital Catholic new Religion en Libertad the closest to Catholic World Report. With my respects Fonch.

  7. This type of essay makes a valuable tool when arguing with both the sedevacantists and the new ultramontanists who seem to share a lack of historical perspective on the papacy. Nevertheless, the Bergoglian papacy does represent the most sustained attack on Catholic Tradition ever launched by a successor of Peter. Yes, we have seen terrible times before, but the present era IS something new…

  8. I am no expert on church history. However, after digesting this excellent article I feel more comfortable among those of learned stripe.
    Today’s church hierarchy seems to present a “wall’ to modernity perhaps with a feared eye to our medieval past experence. Could there be a schism in the making? Perhaps our faith encourages factions using compartmentalization? Many “safe havens”. Can we mortals fully consume church history without confusion; the church we have enjoyed and loved created by a mortal Jesus? I certainly cannot!

  9. Actually, I believe harlots are misrepresented here. As a young travelling soldier arrived late night via Scandinavian Express on dark unknown streets Antwerp toting a heavy duffle bag. A neon lighted entrance seemed welcoming asked if there was a motel nearby [military training advised if ever behind enemy lines ask a strumpet for help which they’d likely]. A comely blond left her barstool and motioned to follow we walked a mile to a motel I turned to thank offer her guilders she smiled and went off. Personally, it seems it’s more the shrew like Theodora we need to worry about. I always pray for that Flanders woman. Finally if propriety hasn’t changed the fateful issues certainly have.

    • Jean Cardinal Danielou died in a prostitute’s room. His reputation perhaps still suffers. His brother, interestingly, was a homosexual. Cardinal retained an openness to his brother’s person while the rest of the family apparently disowned him.

      • I’ve read that some time ago. What can we say except pray for God’s mercy. Meanwhile, Church ordained are riddled with the same weakness that is rife throughout our world. And we’re the ones who are called to set an example. Returning to helpful harlots Rahab is outstanding when, as you’re likely aware she gave safe haven to an Israeli reconnaissance mission. She and her family alone were saved when Jericho was attacked under the ban of no mercy. The red cord hung from her window for identification and life is symbolic of the Precious Blood. Repentance and charity whatever comes first is what God wants.

      • Danielou was slandered at the time of his death in 1974. Decades later the Society of Jesus reported that he had been delivering funds to a woman reputed to be a prostitute, so that she could bail her father out of jail. (Wikipedia alludes to this account.)

        My recollection, which I cannot readily document, is that when this exonerating report finally came out (probably in the 1990s), the reporting Jesuit was very credible, and…that he faulted the Order for not publicizing the new account decades earlier when it was already known. Possibly something about Danielou being on the outs because he was, you know, one of those still fully orthodox Jesuits…

      • Documenting with greater precision, my above recollection re Cardinal Danielou:

        “The eminent Italian Vaticanist, Sandro Magister, wrote a disturbing article in your June-July issue [Inside the Vatican, 2012] on the evil machinations of the Jesuit Order against their confrere, Cardinal Jean Danielou (“The Quarantine Has Ended”). For years I and millions of Catholics and non-Catholics worldwide were convinced this brilliant Jesuit theologian had had a heart attack and died in the house of a prostitute whom he was supposedly frequenting. Instead, now—after forty years—we finally know the truth the Jesuits have known for 40 years and never told the world: He was on an errand of mercy.

        “Cardinal Danielou had gone to bring her money to pay for a lawyer capable of getting her husband out of prison. ‘The Jesuits conducted exhaustive investigations to discover the truth,’ Magister writes, ‘They ascertained his innocence. But they also shrouded the case in silence that did not dispel the suspicions.

        “I think the Jesuits are now paying for their nefariousness. The are no longer the revered religious order they were for 500 years. They are a shadow of their former greatness. I say this with great personal pain and regret because, for six years of philosophy and theology, I received a superb education from the Jesuits at the Gregorian University in Rome. Shame on the Jesuits for their hostility to this holy man, this cardinal of Holy Mother Church, this brother who had the John-the-Baptist courage to tell his brothers the truth about themselves. I hope that some day the Church will canonize this holy man who spoke truth to power” (Rev. Gino Dalpiaz, C.S., Santa Maria Addolorata Church, Chicago, Illinois, USA, “Inside the Vatican,” August/September 2012).

        • Thanks for the happy information. Regarding Magister I’ve been reading for years outrage from archconservatives that John Paul II had a Buddha placed upon a tabernacle at the Assisi interfaith summit in 86 that Sandro in L’Espresso debunked – the witnessed incident occurred privately without his knowledge. Although his kissing the Koran is their [those who believe the Church has been in error since Pius X] absolute proof he was heretical. Knowledgeable of his thought and outlook his intention was merely a gesture of amiability not belief [not quite an Abu Dhabi Francis moment].

  10. Also remember at this point in time, most bishops were appointed by the local King. So bishops often had very close ties to the King, and none at all to the Pope in Rome. This usually allowed for close cooperation between the church and state, since they were almost the same thing.

  11. My Goodness ! What a “different” topic for a Catholic journal. Not only do we read, seemingly every day, the MSM describing mortal sins against the 6th & 9th, but now we are “gifted” with a compendium of Catholic pornography through the Catholic ages, also punted as “ …[an] interesting insight into ecclesial history”.

    Would “prurient” be a good word to explain the theme ?

    I truly doubt even PF would begin to contemplate writing such an article.

    • Yes, it’s sometimes shocking to learn to learn that Catholics, even popes, are sinners. Sometimes spectacular sinners.

      But, more seriously (although that is serious), what exactly is “prurient” about this essay or the factual nature of what is depicted?

      I think the conclusion of the piece speaks of its purpose and point. But I would just emphasize that it’s good for some Catholics to recognize that popes do not walk on water (well, save Saint Peter, and not for long), nor are they blessed with a special dispensation from committing sin once elected to the papal office. Some folks need to let go of the notion that the Holy Spirit “chooses” the pope, while getting a better grasp on the actual nature of the Petrine ministry, which was of course established by Christ and is supernaturally protected in certain, specific ways.

      “I truly doubt even PF would begin to contemplate writing such an article.”

      And what does that have to do with this or any CWR posts? The nature of papal responsibilities and the nature of a Catholic journal are rather different, even if (I hope) they are aimed ultimately at the same ends: truth, goodness, and the salvation of souls. (Plus, I doubt Pope Francis would ever tackle such a topic if only because he doesn’t seem too interested in history.)

    • This article didn’t really have any “prurient” content or theme, but in discussing the past’s scandals, it seemed rather to prove the point Hilaire Belloc once made: “The Catholic Church is an institution I am bound to hold divine — but for unbelievers a proof of its divinity might be found in the fact that no merely human institution conducted with such knavish imbecility would have lasted a fortnight.”

      Point being, that no matter how stupid, reckless, vile, depraved, and/or wicked those in charge may be, or what bad influences they may be under, they leave no lasting damage of the Church’s teachings in their wake. In fact, they often lead to reforms.

      • Right, about there being “no lasting damage of the Church’s teachings,” but the new apostasy is the new UN-teaching or, in concrete cases, the suspending of Church teachings (never a denial!) To the effect that the homosexual lifestyle, for example, can live alongside and within the Church even as the formal moral teachings are still reiterated from time to time. Not unlike a cancer that eventually assumes the shape of the organ it attacks.

        And, with this schizophrenic deformity—-the severing of morality in practice from the Faith and from Reason—-first endured, then habituated, and then subtly presented as a merciful “reform.” The German “Synodal Way(ward)” is still on track as the vanguard…

  12. During all Ecclesiastical eras, there seem to have been and still are many followers of Judas Iscariot. The question is, which Ecclesiastical era was the worst of all? I would say that the new Harlot of which is the Modernist heresy, has been the worst. People in the future will read of these days the post-Vatican ll era, and they will be shocked—hundreds of times more than that which we have just read in this article. But many goods things have happened which have been pleasing to God. God is nobody’s fool, and He is a God of Justice who punishes as He has promised. Woe to Catholics of this day. We need to recognize the voices of true Shephards of the Church. Notably, the precise language of Archbishop Vigano, who is risking his life to bring to our attention the factual truth.

  13. It could be said that this and many other articles on this site contain words of Wisdom (Truth)

    Quote “The fifth gift of the Holy Spirit, knowledge, is often confused with both wisdom and understanding. Like wisdom, knowledge is the perfection of faith, but whereas wisdom gives us the desire to judge all things according to the truths of the Catholic Faith, knowledge is the actual ability to do so. Like counsel, it is aimed at our actions in this life. In a limited way, knowledge allows us to see the circumstances of our life the way that God sees them. Through this gift of the Holy Spirit, we can determine God’s purpose for our lives and live them accordingly” ….. In this World.

    The importance of words that need to be heard
    Nothing is new this history of sin we all knew
    From year to year, we diddle and dally
    As words of Truth, we have tarried and palled

    Words without action are just a distraction
    To act in the moment is the task
    Not to hide behind a verbal mask
    The fallen Tower of Babel has met its match
    With a continual crescendo of words that will not hatch

    We have an acknowledgment of serious sin
    Princely vanity is where it did begin
    Leading to collusion with the originator of sin
    As the elite (educated) hide in the dark, refusing to bark
    Have they just words without any heart?
    Sharing muted words while hiding within the ‘dark mass’ of the herd

    Quote on this site from a regular poster with my response: “There is infinitely more to His life and grace than one saint’s painting and the Church’s failure in its regard. One day God will set it all right”

    The church’s failure can be corrected and we the faithful should call out and demand that the leadership does so now in the ‘present moment’ for not to do so is to collude with their breaking of the Second Commandment.

    You say “One day God will set it all right”

    “I used to believe that prayer changes things, but now I know that prayer changes us, and we change things” St Mother Teresa:

    “They Honour me with their lips but their hearts are far from me”

    While authority comes with Truth (Wisdom) in those hearts who are capable of serving It.

    kevin your brother
    In Christ

    • Some good observations, Brother Kevin. We could add:

      “For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.” John 18:37

      “For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth.” 2 Cor. 13:8

      “Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Eph. 5:11

      In being honest about all our disasters we affirm that we are vessels of clay and thus glorify God in Christ who, by The Holy Spirit, still makes use of us to proclaim the Good News and promises that The Day will come when we will be made perfect.

      Always in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from Marty

      • Thank you, Brother Martin, (Dr Martin James Rice) for your encouraging comment “ In being honest about all our disasters we affirm that we are vessels of clay and thus glorify God in Christ who, by The Holy Spirit, still makes use of us to proclaim the Good News”

        I take great comfort that God’s Mercy cannot be codified De internis noniudicat Ecclesia—“the Church does not pass judgment on the internal forum of men”
        As no matter how broken any child of God may be or how worldly a man’s heart may become, it could be said, that when true humility is found, in childlike wonder, we walk anew upon holy ground.

        kevin your brother
        In Christ

  14. What a great article. I know the Catholic Church despises Spinoza but in reading this article it reminds me of Spinoza’s last work in a Short Treatise in which he claims that God is perfect and cannot allow evil to exist but instead gave us perfection in wisdom, morality and conduct in Jesus Christ, the absolute Good. We are subsequently either closer to being like Jesus Christ or consciously or unconsciously at some distance from his perfect good. Like the Theophlacts, the gay antics of McCarrick or the politically expedient superficial religiosity of Biden, to make an about face from the light of Jesus Christ and into the darkness away from God seems so foolish. Maybe the natural strong gravitational pull of this Earthly life is intrinsically evil.

    • Many thanks gka: very interesting & profound observations.

      Deliberate evils appear completely inexplicable to those who have received the Light of Christ and (by Grace) dwell in its merciful acceptance.

      Why would someone live spiritually on grit & slime, saying: “This is reality!”?

      Why can’t they see that God in Christ has set out a banquet table, laden with inexhaustible spiritual delights; where those who love God are feeding each other.

      The Church’s most passionate cry is to all of humanity: “It’s free; don’t miss this!”

      “The Spirit and The Bride say, ‘Come’, and let everyone who hears say, ‘Come.’ And, let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of Life as a gift.” Revelation 22:17

      In our sorrows and puzzlements over the self-destroying blindnesses of evil’s refusal to receive from the the Source of all goodness, maybe we are being allowed to feel a little of the ache in God’s heart?

      Always in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from Marty

  15. Feast of Dedication of the Basilica in honor of Bl.Mother , who appeared in dreams to the Pope at the time as well as the childless couple who donated their wealth for the Basilica , the miracle of the snow in the heat of August in Rome – pretty soon after the proclamation of truth of who The Mother is ,at the Council of Ephesus , for The Church at large to know her , just as St.Joseph was blessed to know her ..

    She – ever been The Queen who rules in Love … even as much The Spirit might allow human weaknesses to manifest , just as in the case of poor O.T . Miriam , in envy for wife of Moses , becomes a ‘ snow white ‘ leper , the prayers of Moses bringing the healing ..

    ? the grief from the death of Miriam the under current of the occasion when Moses fails to heed the directive of The Lord ..

    May the Queen of purity and compassion be there to put out all sorts of fires that lead to wrong use of power at any age ..and may the compassion for the weak as prayers for the holy souls bring the healing transfiguration into family lines and relationships , to be occasion of praise of His glory and mercy !
    Blessings !

  16. Daniel-Rops did write about that era in his Histoire de l’Église. That is where I learned about popes Formosus and John XII.

  17. The #s of comments and interest on the topic can make one wonder if the above period too was allowed by The Spirit , to be reminded of the flood waters of mercy that is being poured into our times as well – every contracepting marriage being one of ‘ user ‘ level , every lust filled look ..

    Magdalene as the original ‘icon ‘ of the title of the article ..and the blasphemy of the fiction around same , by the worldly minded projecting own darkness to The Lord , yet , His temptations likely of far greater magnitude , as when Moses is told by The Lord how He would like to do away with the whole idol worshipping Israelite community and start over .. The Apostles John and James , hasty to use / abuse the power given them by The Lord , tempted to call down fire against the Samaritans and The Lord instead leads them into The way of mercy ..
    His own withdrawal upon hearing of the death of John The Baptist too ? of same intent – to let mercy and its patience to win ..

    Magdalene too likely had a glimpse of the mercy of The Lord , as to how like the demonic kingdoms that asked to go to the pigs could have been there in her life too demanding to take her to hell any # of times ; The Lord instead converting every flame of the passions of the flesh that gave the claim to the evil upon her , unto flames of holiness and purity in The Spirit on The Cross ..

    May The Spirit breath in us too His holiness and help us too to recall His mercy both in preventing and protecting us on all occasions of temptations .

  18. Sometimes I read about these debauched popes, but I always conclude that these times, today, things are worst: apostate Francis moves like a submarine inside the Catholic Church, stealthy moves, always cutting with the tradition of the Catholic Church, once in a while mentioning the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, but only to fool the majority of distracted catholics that are too busy with themselves to pay attention to the Vatican.

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