The Popes and Sanctity
            QUESTION from deacon gerald A. Foley August 3, 2001

As far as can be historically discerned and delineated, what percentage of the Popes of the Catholic Church have lived either lives of heroic sanctity (whether formally caononized or not) and what "percentage" of those who are often classified as "bad Popes" have there been during the over 2000 year period of the Church's existence?

            ANSWER by Q & A Staff on August 8, 2001

Dear Deacon Gerald,

There have been 78 canonized popes in the history of the Church, and 9 others who are currently blessed. This gives a total of 87 canonized or blessed out of a total of 264, or a percentage of about 32 percent. The most recent members of this group are:

Saint Leo IX (1049-1054)
Saint Gregory VII (1073-85)
Bl. Victor III (1086-7)
Bl. Urban II (1088-99)
Bl. Eugenius III (1145-53)
Bl. Gregory X (1271-6)
Bl. Innocent V (1276)
Saint Celestine V (1294)
Bl. Benedict XI (1303-4)
Bl. Urban V (1362-70)
Saint Pius V (1566-72)
Bl. Pius IX (1846-78)
Saint Pius X (1903-14)
Bl. John XXIII (1958-63)

There have been no more than about ten corrupt popes, giving a percentage of about 4 percent. The most infamous pope in history was probably pope Alexander VI (1492-1503) who had seven illegitimate children as a cardinal, which he openly acknowledged. As the newly-elected 61 year-old pontiff, he had an affair with the 19-year -old Giulia Farnese, who was herself a married woman.

It might be worth while mentioning the "Renaissance Papacy" in general. This period, which extended from the papacy of Paul II (1464-71) up to Pius IV (1159-65), has the reputation for producing popes who were alll either immoral, corrup , or both. This is not in fact the case. With the exception of Pope Alexanded VI already mentioned, many of these popes were in fact neither corrupt nor immoral. It must be admitted, though, that they may not have given the Church the leadership She needed during this time, especially with regard to reform and he calling of the needed Council (namely, Trent). Pope Sixtus IV (1471-84), for example, was a holy man. Julius II (1503-13) certainly loved the Church, and was the pope responsible for commissioning the new St. Peter's. But he wasn't as comitted to reform as perhaps he should have been. Even Pope Leo X (1513-21) was not a corrupt man, though his lifestyle was self-indulgent. Pope Adrian VI (1522-3) was a holy man. With the exception of Julius III (1550-5) the later popes of this period (Paul III (1534-49), Marcellus II (1555), Paul IV (1555-9) and Pius IV (1559-65)) all were committed to reform.

Regarding the sanctity of those popes who have not been beatified/canonized, I don't think it's possible to cover them all, just to mention one other holy pope of recent times. Pope Pius XII, he who has been greatly maligned, was certainly a holy man. Bear in mind also the suffering endured for the Church by those popes who have not been canonized, for example Pope Pius VII (1800-23), imprisoned by Napoleon during the latter's fleeting empire.

So in conclusion, I would say that the popes in general have shown a great deal of sanctity in their lives. 32 percent have been declared to be in heaven officially by the Church, other have shown holiness also. Only a handful have been truly corrupt. It is surely a sign of the divine institution of the Papacy that this is so. Even those corrupt popes never taught anything against faith or morals. Pope Vigilius (6th century) had even agreed with the Emperor to heresy if he bacame pope, and when he was in fact elected, he didn't go through with it.

Thanks, Deacon Gerald.

God bless,

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