" 5. There were crusades and inquisitions and more Christians were burned at the stake under the papacy than all the Christians martyred by all the Roman emperors before them. Jesus once observed that by its fruits we would know if a tree is good. Was the Roman system a good tree? Was it a tree of life ?"

From .................. National Catholic Reporter

December 8, 1995

pages 10- 11


East and West separated in 1054. Within 20 years, a pope who was not balanced by collegial structures comes to the papacy. Gregory VII was elected in 1073. He was a man of passionate faith who had a heart of granite. He was fearless, honest and cruel, authoritarian, unyielding and single-minded. It was he who equated obedience to the church and to the pope with obedience to God.

This mysticism of obedience will become a key element in enforcing the Roman system during the second millennium. It will be expanded in Trent and Vatican I, two councils in which the popes dominated and increased their power at the expense of the church at large. Both councils were convened during times of deep trauma for the church - the Reformation and the loss of the Papal States. There was an unwillingness at both councils to rein in the unbridled power of the popes at a time when the church was losing so much. But we are ahead of our story.

In March of 1075, two years after his election, Gregory laid out his program in 27 propositions called the "Papal Dictates." He defined the pope as the lord of the church and ruler of all councils and as lord of the world and superior to all emperors.

Proposition 19 claimed that the pope could be judged by no one on earth;

Proposition 22 stated that the Roman church had never erred [this despite the formal condemnations of its errors] and will never err [subsequent popes approved of torture and slavery, condemned usury and religious freedom, and insisted that the Earth does not move and the separation of church and state is evil];

Proposition 23 notes that every pope is a saint because he inherits the sanctity of St. Peter [the Renaissance papacy will make this claim incredible].

Consider the "Papal Dictates" and the words of Jesus about seeking no dominion and washing one another's feet. Consider Gregory VII and the words of Paul about putting none of our trust in structures and all of it in Christ.

Consider the papacy of the 11th century and the call of Francis for poverty and freedom, for humility and joy, for simplicity and peace.

INNOCENT III The second founder of the Roman system is Innocent III.

He was the first pope to call himself the vicar of Christ. He had one of the finest legal minds of his age and he used law to keep the church in servitude to Rome. The 12th century papacy made more legal decisions for the church than all those in the previous 11 centuries. Law had clearly become a defining element of the church and an instrument of power.

It is inevitable that the lust for power, even done in the name of Christ, justifies the bloodshed, sooner or later, done in the name of God. Innocent was the first pope to use violence on a large scale to suppress religious dissent. He ordered a crusade against the Albigensian heretics of southern France and approved of the slaughter of every man, woman and child identified with them.

It was Innocent also who began the inquisition process.

[ In 1252 "Innocent" officially authorized

He entrusted delegates with special powers, independent of episcopal authority, to deal with and report on heretics. The pope claimed jurisdiction over every aspect of the Christian life of each member of the church.

No wonder that a sensitive man like Francis would hear in his soul the imperative to rebuild the church.

On June 16, 1216, just seven months after the conclusion of Innocent's greatest triumph, the fourth Lateran council, he was found dead in the cathedral of Perugia, forsaken by all, naked and robbed by his own servants.

The papacy of power ends so often in a bonfire of vanities. Francis died with the marks of Christ on his heart and hands; the whole world still journeys to Assisi in the hope that Francis might make Christ more vital for us. No one goes to Perugia to see where Innocent died.


The last pope in our trilogy of founders of the Roman system is Boniface VIII. He was tall, clean-shaven, with strong features. He was, however, pathologically unstable: impulsive, highhanded, contemptuous of others, subject to fearful outbursts of temper and incapable of keeping a friend. He had so many statues made of himself that contemporaries charged him with idolatry. He dressed in imperial insignia on occasion so that he looked like the emperor rather than the pope. He claimed to be both.

Boniface declared the first holy year in history in 1300. A million people came to Rome to gain plenary indulgences. Boniface used indulgences as an instrument of power as they would be used later as a source of revenue.

On Nov. 18, 1302, he issued the notorious 'Unam Sanctam' in which he defined that there could be no salvation for anyone on the face of the earth unless that person were subject to the bishop of Rome. At this point, the papacy began to assume the place of Christ. Boniface had become even more than Christ's vicar.

All major reforms of the second millennium will seek to dismantle the Roman system founded by these three popes.

It is noteworthy that all three popes died in misery. Gregory VII was run out of Rome, with another pope named to succeed him while he was still alive. "I die in exile," he exclaimed as his life ended. Innocent III, as we have said, was discovered dead. Boniface VIII died Oct. 12, 1303. The papal palace at Anagni was surrounded. During the daylong battle, Boniface dressed up once more, this time as pope. He sat on the papal throne, cross in hand, hoping to stop his captors from laying hands on the pope to whom they must submit if they wished salvation. They seized him nonetheless. A month later, he died, broken in body and spirit, humiliated, encircled by the many statues of himself that he left behind. When Dante wrote his 'Divine Comedy' during the lifetime of Boniface VIII, he consigned Boniface to the lower levels of the Inferno.


If we move forward to the 19th century's First Vatican Council, we find a further key element for the construction of the Roman system.

Pius IX was, in many ways, a man like John Paul II. He was handsome and had a powerful singing voice. He had an engaging, charismatic personality and crowds responded powerfully to his presence. He began the unfortunate modern tendency of having Rome name the world's bishops. He had a strong Marian piety and, indeed, defined Mary's Immaculate Conception as a dogma of faith.

He canonized enormous numbers of saints and he focused the attention of the church on himself and on the papal office.

He condemned the modern age in the Syllabus of Errors, a kind of 19th century "Cultures of Death" document. He was convinced the papacy and its infallibility were more important than any council or the entire body of bishops or even the whole church. In the beginning of his papacy, Pius made liberal statements about the world the Vatican did not control but he refused to allow the Papal States to become a constitutional government.

There were strong reactions to his authoritarianism. His prime minister was murdered Nov. 15, 1848, and Pius had to flee Rome in disguise to save his own life. He returned with a vengeance, sending the papal army to fight the Italian unification forces with a tragic loss of life on both sides. Pius' army was soundly defeated in September 1860 and he called on the French to surround Rome and protect him. They did so for 10 years until the Franco-Prussian War required their recall to France. When the bishops came to Vatican I, they had to pass through the French soldiers guarding Rome and to live in a city under siege.

All of this made the world sympathetic to Pius and he played the role of being a papal martyr strongly to his advantage. On July 18, 1870, Vatican I gave the pope a primacy of jurisdiction over every Catholic community and diocese and it declared the pope's doctrinal definitions infallible even if the majority of bishops disagreed.

When one of the cardinals begged Pius not to go against church tradition by insisting he could define an infallible doctrine without the support of the vast majority of bishops, Pius contemptuously remarked " Tradizione! La tradizione son'io." ["Tradition! I am tradition."]

This papacy also ended in misery. On Sept, 20, 1870, the French armies withdrew and the Italian forces seized Rome, some two months after the papal infallibility definition Pius wanted so much.

The Italian leaders promised the pope personal safety, the creation of a Vatican city-state and monetary compensation for the loss of the Papal States. Pius responded by excommunicating the entire Italian government and declaring himself a prisoner in the Vatican.

Near the end of his life, Pius lamented:

During Pius' funeral on July 13, 1881, a group of nationalists almost succeeded in seizing his casket and tossing it into the Tiber river.

Papal infallibility did not stop history from advancing. The Papal States and Rome were taken from the pope; democracies and constitutions, human rights and free intellectual inquiry went forward despite papal protestation.

The Vatican lost its ability effectively to censor books, prohibit dialogue and control the media. The modern age noted Pius' condemnation of it with a backward glance as it went on to a future of its own choosing.

When Galileo was forced to retract his statement that the Earth moved around the sun, he consoled himself with the words: "'Eppur si muove.'" [One might translate: The earth moves with little regard for our insisting it does not.] And so it was and is. The world and the church move on and all efforts to cling on to the past are futile.

Excerpt in box- "The Roman system is infallible. It admits no errors; it asks no forgiveness."