There was much talk, especially from within Third World countries in Africa and Latin America, that the next pope could be, or at least should be, from the Third World, perhaps even a black African. But this was always a very remote possibility. In the first place, very few cardinals hail from Africa. And in the second place, even though the Roman Catholic religion is experiencing huge growth in the Third World, whereas it is shedding members in the First World, it would have been a giant step for the Italian-dominated College of Cardinals to elect a black African as pope. As South African Roman Catholic archbishop, Buti Tlhagate, commented, the cardinals fear that if an African is elected, “paganism might come through the back door” (The Witness, April 15, 2005). Besides, they doubtless figured that Romanism will continue to grow in Africa anyway, whereas they need a European pope to help consolidate Papal power in Europe and somehow boost numbers there, the home of the Papacy.
But if they have miscalculated, at least they have the satisfaction of knowing that it won’t be too long before Ratzinger passes on, and then they can still elect an African pope if they feel it is essential.
The number one African contender for the papal throne was the cardinal from Nigeria, Francis Arinze. Certainly a very powerful figure in the Vatican these days, it was obviously not deemed the right moment for him to be elected. In his favour was that he is a doctrinal conservative, allowing changes to the way Romanists worship (for example, with African drums, dancing, etc.), but no changes in Roman doctrine. He is staunchly conservative on such matters as abortion, homosexuality, etc.
Yet even though an African was not chosen this time, with the phenomenal growth of Roman Catholicism in Africa the chances of an African being elected at some point in the near future are growing. Even Ratzinger himself, in fact, is on record as having said that choosing an African to be pope would “be a positive sign for the whole of Christendom” (The Witness, April 2, 2005). This seems to indicate that the new pope will continue to woo the Third World, as his predecessor had done, knowing as he does that over two-thirds of the world’s Roman Catholics are now estimated to come from the “global south.”
It is most instructive to look at the lives of some of the other popes who were named “Benedict” in history. After all, when a newly-elected pope chooses, as his new name, the name which many other men before him had used, it indicates his desire to show his continuity with them. Often, indeed, he chooses one based on his own personal “heroes”, men in “Church” history whom he admires. Ratzinger has chosen the name of Benedict XVI. What can we learn of some of the other Benedicts who were popes? It will tell us a lot about Ratzinger himself. Here are just a few details, about just a few of them:
Benedict V, who died in 966 AD, was deposed as a usurper. He fled Rome after dishonouring a young girl, taking with him the entire treasury of St Peter’s; and then he returned to Rome when the money ran out and caused more havoc! Gerbert, an ecclesiastical historian, called this Benedict “the most iniquitous of all the monsters of ungodliness”. He was eventually murdered by the jealous husband of his lover, and his corpse, with a hundred dagger wounds in it, was dragged through the streets and thrown into a cesspool.
Benedict VII died in the very act of adultery, also murdered by the husband of the pope’s lover.
Benedict IX (1021-1054 AD), known as the boy-pope, was only eleven years old when he was elected to that position! Yet one chronicler stated that by the time he was fourteen he had surpassed his predecessors in profligacy and extravagance. He was a man who engaged in continuous immorality. He was described by the English Roman Catholic historian, Philip Hughes, as “a precocious little blackguard.” Others have referred to him as “one of the worst monsters ever to sit upon the papal throne.” Peter Damian, one of Rome’s “saints”, said of this pope, “That wretch, from the beginning of his pontificate to the end of his life, feasted on immorality.” Still another wrote of him, “A demon from hell in the disguise of a priest has occupied the Chair of Peter.” He was the only pope to actually be deposed three times by his opponents. After returning to Rome after his first ejection, some nobles tried to kill him. He had to leave Rome again, but the emperor’s army brought him back. He was again driven out for plunder, murder and oppression, and the Romans chose Sylvester III to be pope in his place. But his family restored him after fifty days. In the year 1045 this pope actually asked to be deposed from the papal throne, so that he could marry his cousin, an Italian princess. He sold the position of pope to the man who succeeded him, Johannes Gratianus, and abdicated in 1045 to the joy of the populace.
Benedict XIII was declared to be a heretic and schismatic by a Roman Catholic council itself. He was pope at a time when two other men were made popes as well, so that there were actually three popes all at once.
Benedict XIV decided that if a child was baptized against his parents’ wishes, and even if baptized contrary to canon law procedures, he was a “Christian” (i.e. Papist) and had to live as one; and if he failed to live as one, he was a heretic, and thus deserving of the “Church’s” terrible punishment for heretics.