Page 9, 24th February 2006

24th February 2006
Page 9
Page 9, 24th February 2006 — Cardinal Pole: one of the best popes the Church never had

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Organisations: Council of Trent
Locations: Canterbury


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Cardinal Pole: one of the best popes the Church never had

he anniversary of the irth of Reginald Pole on March 3,1500, will be occurring in a few days time. What lessons or parallels are there in the Church of today to be gleaned from his life?

A preliminary question arises: is the modem Church in need of reformation? The answer must be "yes", if we bear in mind the implication of the ecclesial maxim reinper reformand9.

Reginald Pole was one of the most enlightened reformers of his own or any other time. He was given an important mission in connection with plans for reform by a Pope, Paul III, who had only been elected to the papacy by accident.

The only thing on which the divided conclave of 1534 could agree was that the next pontificate should be as short as possible. While a caretaker pope was briefly reigning, the cardinals, they calculated. could settle their differences and make a final decision the next time round.

While assembled for the scrutiny on the second day, they suddenly heard the rhythmic tap-tap of a cane on the flagstones whereupon there entered a bent and fragile figure who had to be escorted to his stall as it was feared he was about to collapse. This was Alessandro Famese, the oldest member of the conclave and already appearing to be on the point of death.

He was immediately recognised by the assembled cardinals as the ideal candidate for the purposes they had in mind and he was unanimously elected.

To the amazement of all, his pontificate lasted for 15 years and, most significantly, saw the convening of the Council of Trent. One of the presiding churchmen at the first session was Reginald Pole.

His suitability was influenced by

his choice in 1536 to be one of the authors of an important document entitled Consilium de Emendanda Ecclesia, reporting on the most important matters calling for reform in the Church. A co-author was Cardinal Giovanni Pietro Carafa, afterwards Pope Paul IV.

The document was so candid that it was decreed that it was only to be seen by a few privileged ecclesiastics for fear that its contents would be too shocking for general consumption.

Unfortunately, a few years later, the contents of the report were leaked and fell into the hands of some Protestant activists who seized on it with glee. By this time Carafa, by now Pope, was so worried he put the report on the Index.

It was the only case of the Pope so condemning his own work.

Pole's decisive presence at the Council of Trent, combined by a conciliatory but persuasive advocacy of genuine reform, made his name, as he became favourite to be elected Pope on the death of Paul III in 1549. His fellow cardinals proposed to "acclaim" rather than elect him in the ordinary way and offered to render him their immediate homage.

These, however, were the "imperial" cardinals, presuming to act before their French brothers had arrived. Pole, honourably but unnecessarily, refused the magnam moos offer. "One cannot help someone who refuses to help him, self," one of the cardinals was heard to mutter.

The Church thus failed to acquire a pope who might have proved providential at a time of great need. Elected instead was the worthless Julius III, who granted his toy-boy lover a scarlet hat — much to the disgust of the other cardinals

In 1554 Pole returned to Mary Tudor's England as papal legate and brought about a short-lived Catholic restoration. He made strenuous efforts to restrain the Queen's excessive anti-Protestant measures. Even as Archbishop of Canterbury, however, his attempts were unavailing. He was that comparatively rare figure: an urbane Catholic statesman.

Pole was of royal blood himself, his aunt Margaret of Salisbury being the niece of Edward IV. She was executed for opposing the claim by Henry VW to be supreme head of the Church in England, and was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.

Mary Tudor died in 1558 and Reginald Pole followed her to the grave three weeks later. It was the end of Catholicism in England for over two centuries. Has the time come round again for a notable act of urbane Catholic statesmanship?

Reginald's surname was pronounced "Pool" by his family and most other people for many years. Such a pronunciation has latterly been largely discarded as too pedantic.

One of Pole's achievements was to promote the institution of seminaries for the training of priests and it was he who invented the term "seminarian".

Gerard Noel

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