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by Catherine Frakas 10 Feb 2002

Papal succession QUESTION from Joe October 15, 2000 From the 9th century through the 19th century, many persons were made cardinal by the pope because the popes were either requested or told to do so by kings -- kings to which they were beholden because of the necessity for the popes to rely upon the king's military might for protection (of himself and the papal states). Many of these persons popes appointed cardinals should not have been cardinals, they were corrupt and became cardinals not because the popes wanted them to become cardinals but because various kings wanted them to become cardinals. How then can these persons who sat on the college of cardinals (when it was established in the 11th century (I believe), who attained their position oftentimes by their benefactors (the kings) literally blackmailing, extorting, or intimidating the popes, lawfully elect a pope? It would appear to me that the college of cardinals in those times, which elected a pope, was not legitimate. It was composed of members who many times attained their position through subterfuge, and quite possible against the wishes of the pope himself. If it was not legitimate, its actions in electing a pope were not legitimate.
thank you
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on October 15, 2000 Dear Joe,
In order for a cardinal's appointment to be canonically invalid, you would have to show that 1) there was a canon invalidating appointments made through coercion and 2) that real coercion actually existed as the Church defined it. And then, to demonstrate that a papal election was invalid, you would have to show that that canon law invalidated elections in which such cardinals participated. The 9th to the 19th century is a long span, and the rules for papal electios have changed. For example, sometimes simony rendered elections invalid, sometimes they didn't. Therefore, I can only speak in generalities then, about papal elections.
If the pope appoints them, then they are cardinals and have all the privileges attached to their office, even if they were immoral or obtained their position through illegitamite means.
You may think that those days of election buying are gone in the 21st century, but it goes on all the time in Western democracies. Is anyone so naive as to believe that every American presidential election is won without any corruption or influence peddling? Unless someone proves in court that an illegal act made void the elections, the person who receives the most electoral college votes gets to be president. The media is biased, the candidates' commercials distort the truth, corporations essentially buy off parties so that they don't vote against their interests. This is all immoral, as citizens are hindered in making informed decisions and electing people who will consider the common good of the land. But, it does not render a presidential election invalid. It's the same thing with papal elections: unless there is a situation where the electoral rules were violated, the election of a pope remains valid, even if there were sins committed throughout the electoral process.
The rules for papal elections were well known to ecclesiastics, and if there had been an invalid election, someone would have surely contested, as even valid elections were contested.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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