Popes Who Never Got to be Saints

popesDear Pope Stephen VI:

Thank you for your application for sainthood. Unfortunately, we are unable to grant your request at this time.

When examining the merits of church prelates, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints looks favorably on efforts to strengthen the integrity of Church ecclesiastical offices. And of course no application for sainthood can be harmed if the applicant has been martyred in the name of Christ. We assume you know this, which is why you emphasize both these qualities in your letter.

However, you may not be aware that the Congregation has access to extensive historical records that do not necessarily corroborate all the material in your application packet. For instance, while we agree that the ordination of your predecessor, Pope Formosus, was irregular in several aspects, a wise and even-tempered administrator of the Church would have reacted to such problems in a forward-looking way, perhaps by reforming administrative processes to prevent them from recurring.

Instead, you dug up Formosus’s body, prop it up on a throne, and put it on trial — a trial that, from all reports, consisted primarily of yelling at said corpse. This made everyone very uncomfortable. A saint should provide a calming sense of God’s love to his flock, a sense of righteous unity in Christ, rather than a feeling of creeping, surreal horror.

In addition, while we must emphasize that we do not endorse posthumous trials or executions of any short, we feel that decisiveness and determination are also important qualities in a saint. Stripping Formosus’s corpse of papal vestments, burying it in a cemetery reserved for foreigners, then digging it up a second time and throwing it in the Tiber fails to really get at whatever point you were going for.

In regards to your so-called “martyrdom”: while the Congregation of course supports the rule of law and opposes angry mob justice, we believe that being violently overthrown by a Roman populace outraged by your deranged conduct and then getting strangled in prison does not constitute the sort of witness for Christ that most people think of when they hear the word “martyr.”

Miracles are the sort of thing that can really punch up a sainthood application. We notice you did not mention any miracles in yours, and we appreciate your honesty in this regard. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

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popes2Dear Pope Boniface VIII:

Thank you for your application for sainthood. Unfortunately, we are unable to grant your request at this time, just as we were unable to grant your previous four requests.

We take under advisement your insistence that certain quotes have been taken out of context, or fabricated by your enemies after your death. For instance, several anecdotes have come down in which you supposedly claimed that different sins were no more harmful than “rubbing your hands together” — sodomy, for instance, or adultery, or pedophilia. You say the different variations on the story prove that this is an urban legend; we, on the other hand, would suggest that this was merely your go-to metaphor when attempting to justify un-saintly behavior.

We will pass over both the metaphor and the conduct it attempted to justify for the moment. Instead, we will bring up several other matters that concerned members of the review committee. We understand that reading the application of someone petitioning to have their semi-divine status recognized and criticizing it for a lack of humility is somewhat contradictory. Nevertheless, a review of your records demonstrates that you didn’t really try very hard to walk the line in this case.

We draw your attention, for instance, to an incident when, during a Roman jubilee year when the city was thronged with pilgrims, you appeared before them dressed in imperial robes and a jewel-encrusted crown, shouting “I am Caesar, I am emperor.” Similarly, while we understand that the Church is a multinational organization that requires money to do God’s work on Earth and do not expect its administrators to live off of stale bread donated by the pious, we feel that your accounts receivable techniques, which consisted of priests literally raking in money for you, with actual, non-metaphorical rakes, to be, as they say today, bad optics.

Finally, we must touch the circumstances of your death. Your attempt to assert supremacy over the King of France strikes us having been less a proclamation of the primacy of the spiritual realm than about your desire to boss around the King of France. Your subsequent arrest, failed attempt at suicide (by chewing through your own arm, what is that even about), release from captivity, and swift decline and death were less martyr-like that just kind of sad.

You know, 600 years before your time, the Byzantine emperor tried to arrest Pope Sergius I, and you know what happened to the soldier he sent to do that? He ended up hiding under the pope’s bed. And Sergius never got to be a saint either. We’re just saying.

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Dear Pope John XII,

Well! Where do we even start? The Congregation for the Causes of Saints is getting pretty tired of the entitled attitude among the millennial generation, by which of course we mean people born in the last century of the first millennium A.D. We suppose that such feeling might be inevitable in someone elected pope in his early 20s thanks to his father, the Count who ruled Rome, but that doesn’t make such an attitude saintly.

We will mention only in passing some of the more spectacular accusations made against you, which include testimony that you ordained a deacon in a horse stable; ordained a ten-year-old bishop; fornicated with various ladies, including your father’s concubine and your own niece; blinded and killed your confessor; castrated and killed a cardinal; set frequent fires; toasted to the devil with wine; and invoked Jupiter, Venus and other demons while playing dice.

Granted, most of these tales come from the writings of Liutprand of Cremona, one of history’s most spectacularly energetic haters. Still, the sheer volume of accusations is, well, troubling.

More disturbing still are the multiple reports that, after you were briefly ejected from Rome by Emperor Otto I, you had your enemies mutilated. Frankly, we don’t even think a saint should have enemies. And to be blunt, we prefer that saints get mutilated rather than do the mutilating. Seriously, you can look that up.

We thank you for your time. Do Jupiter and Venus really count as “demons”? Anyway, tell them we say hi.

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