Many of you know about this historical event and the mess it created for the Church until finally resolved. If you don’t, then know that in the late fourteenth and early fifteen centuries, there was a nearly 40 year period in which the identity of the one, true Pope was disputed.
In 1377, Pope Gregory XI moved from Avignon, where the papal court resided for 68 years, back to Rome, thanks in large part to the Catholic action of St. Catherine of Siena. The Avignon popes were heavily influenced by the French monarchy. Gregory’s move back to Rome was thus politically unpalatable to the French throne and its dependents.
When Gregory died in 1378, rival claimants to the See of Peter were elected, one in Rome (Pope Urban VI) and one in Avignon (Antipope Clement VII).
Pope Boniface IX succeeded Urban, and was succeeded by Pope Innocent VII, who in turn was succeeded by Pope Gregory XII, all reigning from Rome. Antipope Clement was in turn succeeded in Avignon by Antipope Benedict XIII.
Further complicating matters was the development of a third claimant line, established in Pisa, by many bishops frustrated by the ongoing schism. The Council of Pisa declared both claimants illegitimate and elected Antipope Alexander V in 1409. Now there were three “bishops in white” claiming to be pope. Antipope Alexander V was then succeeded by Antipope John -/ahem/- XXIII.
Finally, the Council of Constance resolved this sad chapter in the Church’s history in 1413, when it helped arranged the voluntary abdications of Pope Gregory XII and Antipope John XXIII (who, reconciled to the Church, is interred with honor in the bapistry of the Duomo in Florence). Antipope XIII pf Avignon refused to resign, and was excommunicated by the Council as a schismatic. Then Pope Martin V was finally elected, and the undisputed Roman Pontiff reigned again from Rome.
Why the history lesson? Three reasons:
1. During that whole sad time of confusion,there was always, at most, ONE TRUE POPE.
2. We need to ponder, with sorrow, contrition, and filial fear, that every one of the popes and antipopes of that period BELIEVED AND TAUGHT THE CATHOLIC FAITH. This schism, you see, was really an ongoing dispute over a mistake in fact. The Catholic faith was not under constant attack by either pope or antipope.
3. When you pray for a resolution to the papal confusion of our time, consider this: Francisfavorite Cardinal Taigle (made Cardinal in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI) is just 64 years old.
The situation would be more easily, and more swiftly, solved if the next conclave followed the abdication or death of Pope Benedict XVI. But the Triumph of the Immaculate Heart will do just fine, too.