Tag Archives: Pope

Benedict IX: The First (Primarily) Gay Pope (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048)

That Benedict IX had sexual relationships with men seems to be beyond reasonable doubt. In his diatribe against “sodomy” among the Catholic clergy (Liber Gomorrhianus), St. Peter Damian described him as “feasting on immorality” and “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”. The modern researcher Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher, in “The First Gay Pope and Other Records”, rightly called Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048) “the first pope known to be primarily homosexual.” Benedict’s pontificate, which was known for  homosexual orgies in the Lateran Palace, “turned the Vatican into a male brothel” and was so scandalous that he was deposed, not once but twice.

 Benedict IX (1021–ca. 1052) was the son of the count of Tusculum. He imitated John XII in staging licentious orgies. These and other excesses caused such indignation that Benedict was deposed in 1045, but then reinstated, only to be deposed again. He disappeared into such deep obscurity that his actual date of death is unknown.

Matt & Andrej in their Biographies of LGBT people, quote this description (original source not stated):

At the death of John XIX, his brother Alberic decided to keep the papacy in the family by having his young son Theophylactus elected (October, 1032). Theophylactus, a young man probably about twenty years old, was a cleric. That was about his only qualification for the papacy. Unqualified by his youth, his bringing up, his depravity, Benedict IX became one of the very few really disreputable popes. He was known for homosexual orgies, at the Lateran Palace. The story of Benedict’s pontificate is as unsatisfactory as his life. The Romans rose against him probably about 1036 and drove him from the city. Benedict proceeded to Cremona, where he met Emperor Conrad II and received a promise of protection. By imperial influence Benedict returned to Rome, only to be driven out again in 1044.
This time there was a fight, and Benedict’s supporters grimly clung to a foothold in the Trastevere district. Inside the city, John, bishop of Sabina, was set up as Pope Sylvester III, but Benedict was not idle. He had fled for help to his family’s base at Tusculum and within two months his tough Tusculans fought their way into the city, sent Sylvester III back to his diocese of Sabina, and restored Benedict IX.
Once restored, Benedict did not feel at ease on the papal throne. For some reason, in 1045 he decided to abdicate. As Desiderius, the abbot of Monte Cassino (later Pope Victor III), put it, “Devoted to pleasure, he preferred to live like Epicurus rather than like a pope.” Consequently, he handed over the papacy to the worthy archpriest, John Gratian. Benedict did not go empty-handed. Gratian paid a large sum to get rid of this offensive character. The charms of retirement soon wore thin for Benedict, and a short time after his abdication he was once more claiming to be pope. With Sylvester III and Benedict IX fighting Gregory for the control of Rome, things were in a frightful muddle. This was ended by Henry III, who had succeeded his father Conrad II in 1039. Henry came down into Italy, cooperated with Gregory to get rid of the pretensions of Sylvester and Benedict, and then had a council demand and receive Gregory’s abdication. Henry then put in a German pope–Clement II. Benedict made one more comeback. After the death of Clement II, he once again entered Rome and held sway at the Lateran, but only from November 8, 1047 to July 17, 1048. Henry III insisted on his removal and brusquely ordered Boniface, marquis of Tuscany, to expel Benedict.
What happened to Benedict after this is obscure. According to one report, which it may be hoped is true, Benedict retired to the abbey of Grottaferrata, resigned all claim to the papacy, and spent his last years as a penitent. Scandalous as Benedict had been, he carried on the routine business of the papacy. And like the few other bad men who were popes, Benedict taught nothing but the pure doctrine of Christ, though by so doing he condemned and did not excuse his own disordered life.

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Gay Popes: Julius III (1487 – 1555)

b. 10 September 1487
d. 23 March 1555

When I wrote about Paul II earlier, I referred to Julius III – then realised I have never given you more than a snippet on this flagrant lover of boys including one in particular, a street urchin whom Julius appointed as Cardinal at the grand old age of 17.
In his early career in the Church Julius established a reputation as an effective and trustworthy diplomat, and was elected to the Papacy as a compromise candidate when the Papal Conclave found itself deadlocked between the rival French and German factions. As Pope he lost, or failed to show, any of the qualities which had distinguished his previous career, devoting himself instead to a life of personal pleasure and indolence. His lasting fame, or notoriety, rests rather on his relationship with the 17 year old boy whom he raised to the position of Cardinal-Nephew, and, it was said at the time, with whom he shared his bed.
At the start of his reign Julius had seriously desired to bring about a reform of the Catholic Church and to reconvene the Council of Trent, but very little was actually achieved during his five years in office; apologists ascribe the inactivity of his last three years to severe gout.
In 1551, at the request of the Emperor Charles V, he consented to the reopening of the council of Trent and entered into a league against the duke of Parma and Henry II of France (1547–59), but soon afterwards made terms with his enemies and suspended the meetings of the council (1553).

The Innocenzo scandal

Julius’s particular failures were around his nepotism and favouritism. One notable scandal surrounded his adoptive nephew, Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, a 13 or 14-year old beggar-boy whom the future Pope had picked up on the streets of Parma some years earlier and with whom he had allegedly fallen in love.On being elected to the Papacy Julius raised the now 17-year old but still uncouth and quasi-illiterate Innocenzoto the cardinalate, appointed him cardinal-nephew, and showering the boy with benefices.

Artistic legacy

Julius spent the bulk of his time, and a great deal of Papal money, on entertainments at the Villa Giulia, created for him byVignola. Julius extended his patronage to the great Renaissance composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, whom he brought to Rome as his maestro di cappella, Giorgio Vasari, who supervised the design of the Villa Giulia, and to Michelangelo, who worked there.


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GAY POPES, PAPAL SODOMITES

For the month of Gay Pride (in church), it would be great if we we could simply celebrate a list of unambiguously gay popes – but we can’t. This is not because they don’t exist (there were undoubtedly several popes whom we know had physical relationships with men), but because of the inadequacies of language, and the weakness of the historical record over something so deeply personal, especially among the clergy. Both of these difficulties are exemplified by Mark Jordan’s use of the phrase, “Papal Sodomites”.  In medieval terms, a “sodomite” was one of utmost abuse, which meant far more than just the modern “homosexual”. It could also include, bestiality, or heresy, or withcraft, and (in England, after the Reformation) “popery”, which is deeply ironic, and hence treason.

So in the years before libel laws and carefully controlled democratic institutions, accusations of “sodomy” were a useful slander for the powerful to throw at their political enemies.

Some at least of the charges against the popes will have been without foundation. We just don’t know, and probably never will, which of these charges were simply malicious. On the other hand, the historical facts around some of the others are clear.

In the modern world, the problem is somewhat different. There have been clear reports and claims that at least two modern popes have had male lovers, but in the deeply closeted world of the Vatican, these claims remain as yet not conclusively proven (not have they been clearly refuted).
Still, it is worth considering both those are definitely known to have had male lovers, as well as those who may have done, and also those who did not, but tolerated or protected others.
About Paul II (1464 – 1471) Sixtus IV ( 1471-84), Julius II (1503-1513), Leo X ( 1513-1521), and Julius III (1550-1555) there is little room for doubt: the historical record is clear.
About Boniface, Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503),  Benedict IX and John XII (r. 955-964) the evidence is less certain.
Among the early popes who notable tolerated or protected people accused of homosexual practices, we should remember Pope Callistus, who was harshly criticized by Tertullian for his failure to condemn sex between men; Pope Leo IX, who implemented many of St Peter Damian’ s proposals for church reform, but rejected the appeals for harsh penalties against clerical “sodomites”, and also rejected appeals to prevent the consecration as bishop of the promiscuous John (or Jean) of Orleans. Later, ,Paul III (1534 -49) is said to have protected and bestowed honours on his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, who surrounded himself with male lovers, used Roman police to track down a young man who had spurned his advances, and was accused of raping a bishop and other clerics.
A passage from the glbtq.com is fascinating for the very different picture it paints to that prevailing elsewhere, at a time when the inquisition and secular powers were burning between them thousans of men across Europe and in the New World:
The papacy generally revealed in practice a relatively tolerant attitude to sexual “deviation.” Within the Papal States, penalties against sodomy were enforced less rigorously than in many other territories. By the fifteenth century, Rome had developed a vibrant subculture of men who enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. (The situation of women in Rome is less well documented.)
Thus, throughout the early modern era, men found refuge in Rome from the harsh punishment of sodomy, which was more “routine” in northern Europe and which was also vigorously prosecuted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although popes at least acquiesced in the prosecutions under the Inquisition, the persecution of sodomites probably resulted from local animus and zeal rather than from directives from Rome. Protestant reformers consistently condemned papal toleration of homosexual acts.


In the modern period, there have been claims that Pope John XXIII was preparing a gentler  teaching on same sex relationships before his death, that John Paul I in his brief papacy promoted a gentler approach and may have had some gay experience in his past, and that Pope Paul VI had an extensive history of homosexual affairs in his early career.
Vatican apologists will no doubt acknowledge that there have been times when appallingly inappropriate men occupied the papacy, especially in the scandalous centuries before the Counter-Reformation. However, Leo IX at least is regarded as one of a great wave of reforming popes from the 11th and 12th centuries. More importantly, it is central to Vatican claims of supremacy and authority that by apostolic succession, they are the direct representatives of Christ on earth. If this argument is valid, what possible reason can there be for assuming that the harsh arguments espoused by Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI should carry any more weight than the example of their predecessors?
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“Alfredo’s Fire”: The Self- Martyrdom of Alfredo Ormando

In January 1998 Alfredo Ormando, an Italian writer, set himself on fire in St Peter’s Square in the heart of the Vatican. Ormando was Catholic, and gay.

In Catholic hagiography, the most famous image of a martyr burned at the stake is that of St Joan of Arc, condemned by the approved theologians of the Church as a heretic and martyred by the church, essentially for her transgression in dressing as a man. In the centuries that followed, thousands more were burnt as sodomites. These were viewed by the church as irredeemable sinners – but later history may come to view them differently. The church now views Joan as a canonized saint. Pope Benedict has explicitly acknowledged the clear lesson – official theologians may be wrong. In years to come, those burnt for sodomy may also come to be more widely recognized as collective martyrs – martyred by the church, for the nature of their love.  In his horrifying echo of the centuries – long great persecution of sexual minorities, Alfredo Ormando’s suicide after years of attempting to stifle his sexuality in accordance with Vatican rules, may be seen as a unique act of self-martyrdom.

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