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Innocent II - A Little Respected Pontiff

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Fresco of Innocent IIIf the Frangipani had forcibly thrust their candidate into the papal throne in the person of Honorius, their rivals, the Pierleoni, were ready to take over on the death of Honorius. But they had a big difficulty. Their candidate, Peter Pierleone himself, although formerly a monk of Cluny and now a cardinal, was not noted for his ecclesiastical character. And so when his faction openly prepared to put the eager Pierleone on the throne of Peter, the alarmed cardinals made an agreement to entrust the election to a committee of eight. This committee elected Cardinal Gregory Papareschi of St. Angelo, who took the name Innocent II.

The Pierleoni refused to give in, and other cardinals of their faction elected Peter, who took the name Anacletus II. The Church was faced by a schism. Innocent had to fly from Rome to France, but if Rome rejected him, the Church did not. To his support rallied the two most respected and powerful personalities in Europe, St. Bernard and St. Norbert, and in their train came the Emperor and the kings of France and England; Roger of Sicily was the only great ruler to support Anacletus. After the death of Anacletus, the schism fizzled out. Though Roger set up another antipope, he soon submitted.

Innocent II was a man of high character against whom even his enemies had nothing to say. Indeed it was his excellent reputation in contrast to that of Anacletus which had moved St. Bernard to support him so vigorously. A Roman of the Trastevere district, Innocent had become a monk and then abbot and was made cardinal by Blessed Urban II. He had served with distinction at the Council of Worms. Much could be expected from such a pope, but political difficulties plagued Innocent. His greatest achievement was the general council held at the Lateran in 1139. Here over 500 bishops and abbots passed a series of reform decrees which confirmed those of St. Gregory VII. But the clash of arms distracted the Pope during much of his reign. Innocent had taken stern measures against Anacletus and his followers. He had even proclaimed a crusading indulgence for those who would fight against that arch supporter of the schism, Roger of Sicily. But Roger had his revenge.

The Pope, in a dispute over Capua, advanced with an army against the Normans. The armies clashed on the Garigliano with disastrous results for Innocent. The Pope and his whole court were taken prisoner by the redoubtable Roger! Roger, like Robert Guiscard with St. Leo IX, treated the Pope deferentially, but he made Innocent confirm the royal title which Anacletus had given him. On his part he agreed to hold the Kingdom of Sicily as a fief from the Pope. Innocent gave Rome good government and beautiful churches. But the Romans proved ungrateful. Because the Pope tried to moderate their vengeance against Tivoli, the Romans revolted and set up a republic. In the midst of all this turmoil, Innocent II died on September 24, 1143.

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

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