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Gregory VI - Bought And Paid For

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Gregory VI is noted as the pope who purchased the papacy! Yet Gregory VI was a good man, a good priest, and a good pope. What happened was this. When the scandalous Benedict IX began to grow weary of being pope he went to his godfather, John Gratian, the worthy archpriest of St. John-at-the-Latin-Gate, and asked him if it were legitimate for a pope to abdicate. John joyously assured him that it was and urged Benedict to take a step so profitable for the Church.

Benedict, however, demanded compensation, and John gave him a large sum of money he had at hand for some worthy object. He did not think the money could be better spent than in ridding the Church of so scandalous a pastor. The good priest does not seem to have realized that such a proceeding would itself give scandal as an act of simony, especially since simony, the sale or purchase of sacred things, was an abuse of the period. John Gratian himself was elected to succeed Benedict. According to some he accepted reluctantly. He was consecrated as Gregory VI. His election was hailed with joy, for the venerable priest enjoyed an excellent reputation. The fiery reformer St. Peter Damian wrote from his Camaldolese monastery to congratulate Gregory and urge him to campaign vigorously against abuses. Gregory took that advice. He tried hard to rule the Church well, and he relied for help on his chaplain, a holy and able young monk named Hildebrand. But it was a difficult task. The confusion of the years preceding had caused anarchy in the Papal States. Armed bands roved about. The Pope's temporal authority was defied. Gregory tried first by gentle means, then by raising an armed force, to restore order. But soon confusion was worse confounded. Sylvester III, the antipope of 1044, came back to Rome to dispute the papacy with Gregory.

Worse still, Benedict IX, weary of retirement, once more claimed the papal throne. Since each had his supporters in the city, the turbulent state of affairs can be imagined. At last a faction sent to Henry III and asked him to set things straight. Down into Italy came King Henry, and Gregory went to meet him at Piacenza. He cooperated with Henry and called a council at Sutri which declared that Sylvester's election had been invalid. Benedict was passed over because he had abdicated. Prospects for Gregory looked bright, but when Henry came to Rome for Christmas, another synod was held and it became evident that King Henry intended to oust Gregory. Using the excuse that Gregory had committed the sin of simony, the council demanded his abdication. The good man freely admitted that he had paid money to Benedict, but declared that he considered the transaction justified by extraordinary circumstances. He now acknowledged that he had done wrong and humbly begged pardon.

Such humility was exemplary, but it did not satisfy Henry. He wanted the Pope out, and so just before Christmas 1046, Gregory abdicated. Henry sent the ex-pope to Germany as a state prisoner. With him went his chaplain Hildebrand.

Gregory died some time after 1047, but the date and place of his death are unknown.

Excerpted from "Popes Through the Ages" by Joseph Brusher, S.J.

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