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Innocent VIII - A Devout Pontiff

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Innocent VIIIThe death of Sixtus IV was the signal for a general outbreak against his pushful and greedy relatives. Once more Orsini and Colonna stood to arms while Caterina Sforza, the redoubtable wife of Girolamo Riario, the late Pope's favorite lay nephew, seized the Castle of St. Angelo. It looked as if blood would wash Roman gutters, but cooler heads prevailed, and the cardinals were able to proceed to an election.

The conclave, like Rome itself, was torn by factions. The chief rivals were Giuliano della Rovere, the most able of the late Pope's nephews, and Rodrigo Borgia, the nephew of Calixtus III. Bargaining seems to have been quite open, and the election was decided when Della Rovere and Borgia got together on a compromise candidate, a weak, good-natured man whom the ambitious cardinals hoped to dominate, Giovanni Battista Cibo.

Giovanni Battista Cibo was born in Genoa in 1432, the son of a Roman senator. As a young man he was somewhat licentious and had two illegitimate children, Franceschetto and Teodorina. But after young Cibo took orders he settled down. He became bishop of Savona in 1467, and in 1473 exchanged Savona for the see of Olfetta in Naples. He was created cardinal in 1473 by Sixtus IV. He chose the name of Innocent VIII.

The first part of his reign was dominated by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, that most able and energetic of Sixtus IV's nephews, but the easy- going Innocent soon tired of power politics and allowed Lorenzo de' Medici to guide his policy during the latter part of his pontificate. He made Lorenzo's teen-age nephew a cardinal, but stipulated that he should not assume the robes and obligations of the cardinalate until he was eighteen.

Innocent summoned a congress to meet at Rome in 1490 to discuss a crusade against the Turks. Interest in the proposal was heightened by the presence of the Sultan's brother, Prince Jem, in Rome. But as usual, nothing came of the congress.

Although Pope Innocent meant well, he contributed to the decline of papal prestige by his open acknowledgment of his illegitimate children in the Vatican. His son Franceschetto, who was living a dissolute life, was no help to the Pope.

Then too, Innocent was very hard pressed for funds. To get them he increased the number of purchasable offices. This in turn caused graft and corruption among officials. Innocent had the bitter experience of seeing forged bulls sold under his very eyes. When the culprits were discovered, death was their portion, but great damage was done before the forgeries were discovered.

Innocent had the consolation of hearing of the fall of Granada to the arms of Ferdinand and Isabella. But his pontificate, on the whole, did little for the Church. He himself seemed to realize this, and on his deathbed he asked the cardinals' forgiveness for having done so little and begged them to elect a better successor. How they answered this appeal is a matter of history.

Innocent VIII died devoutly on July 25, 1492.

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

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