Pope Benedict XIII
Pope Benedict XIII (Latin: Benedictus XIII; 2 February 1649 – 21 February 1730), born Pietro Francesco Orsini and later called Vincenzo Maria Orsini, was head of the Catholic Church and ruler of the Papal States from 29 May 1724 to his death in 1730.
A Dominican friar, Orsini focused on his religious responsibilities as bishop rather than on papal administration. Orsini's lack of political expertise led him to increasingly rely on an unscrupulous secretary (Cardinal Niccolò Coscia) whose financial abuses ruined the papal treasury, causing great damage to the Church in Rome.
In the process towards sainthood, his cause for canonization opened in 1755, but it was closed shortly afterwards. It was re-opened on 21 February 1931, but it was closed once again in 1940. It was opened once more on 17 January 2004, with the official process commencing in 2012 and concluding later in 2017. He now has the posthumous title of Servant of God.
He was born in Gravina in Puglia, the eldest of six sons of Ferdinando III Orsini, duke of Gravina, and Giovanna Frangipani della Tolfa, from Toritto. A member of the Orsini of Rome, he was the third and last member of that family to become Pope. At the age of eighteen he resigned his inheritance and entered the Dominican Order where he received the name of "Vincenzo Maria". He was ordained to the priesthood in February 1671.
Through the influence of his family, he was named, by Pope Clement X, Cardinal-Priest of San Sisto on 22 February 1672 (allegedly against his will). He also lectured in philosophy at Brescia. Later he was bishop of Manfredonia, bishop of Cesena and then archbishop of Benevento. After an earthquake in 1688 and another in 1702 he organized relief efforts for the victims. He remained a close friend of a local mystic, Serafina di Dio.
Upon the death of Pope Innocent XIII in 1724, a conclave was convoked to elect a successor. There were four divisions in the College of Cardinals and there were no clear candidates. At the conclave, Orsini was considered one of the papabili. Orsini was then proposed to be elected because he led a modest, austere life, and was considered to be a pastor. His lack of political expertise suggested that he would be neutral and malleable.
Orsini refused to be elected prior to the final ballot, explaining that he was unworthy of it. Eventually he was persuaded to accept by Agustín Pipia, Master of the Order of Preachers and on 29 May 1724, Orsini was elected pontiff. He chose the regnal name of "Benedict XIII" in honour of Pope Blessed Benedict XI because he was also of the Dominican Order.
Not a man of worldly matters, Benedict XIII made an effort to maintain his monastic lifestyle. He endeavoured to put a stop to the decadent lifestyles of the Italian priesthood and of the cardinalate. He also abolished the lottery in Rome and the Papal States, which only served to profit the neighboring states that maintained the public lottery. A man fond above all of asceticism and religious celebrations, he built several hospitals, but according to Cardinal Lambertini (later Pope Benedict XIV) "did not have any idea about how to rule".
In 1728, Benedict's intervention settled a controversy, regarding the relics of St Augustine, that erupted in Pavia, Italy. He ultimately confirmed the authenticity of Augustine's bones, that had been discovered in 1695 in the Basilica San Pietro in Ciel d'Oro. (Stone, Harold Samuel (2002). "Augustine's Bones: A Microhistory." pp. 90–93)
The government of the Papal States was effectively held in Benedict XIII's stead by Cardinal Niccolò Coscia, who had been the pope's secretary when he was archbishop of Benevento, and who committed a long series of financial abuses to his own advantage, causing the ruin of the Papal treasury. Coscia and his associates effectively isolated Benedict from other advisors. According to Montesquieu, "All the money of Rome goes to Benevento... as the Beneventani direct [Benedict's] weakness".
Benedict XIII beatified Bernardine of Feltre in 1728, Peter Fourier on 20 January 1730, Hyacintha of Mariscotti on 1 September 1726, Fidelis of Sigmaringen on 24 March 1729, Vincent de Paul on 13 August 1729, and John del Prado on 24 May 1728.
Through the process of equipollent canonization Benedict XIII canonized Pope Gregory VII on 24 May 1728. He conferred sainthood upon Agnes of Montepulciano in 1726, Aloysius Gonzaga on 31 December 1726, Boris of Kiev in 1724, Francis Solano on 27 March 1726, Gleb in 1724, James of the Marches and Turibius of Mogroveio on 10 December 1726, John of Nepomuk on 19 March 1729, John of the Cross and Peregrine Laziosi on 27 December 1726, Margaret of Cortona on 16 May 1728, and Serapion of Algiers on 14 April 1728.
Benedict XIII elevated 29 new cardinals into the cardinalate in a total of 12 consistories; one such new cardinal was Prospero Lambertini, who later became Pope Benedict XIV.
Benedict XIII, whose orders were descended from Scipione Rebiba, personally consecrated at least 139 bishops for various important European sees, including German, French, English and New World bishops. These bishops in turn consecrated bishops almost exclusively for their respective countries causing other episcopal lineages to die. As a result, more than 90% of present-day bishops trace their episcopal lineage through him to Cardinal Rebiba.
With the papal bull Pretiosus dated 26 May 1727 Benedict XIII granted to all Dominicans major houses of study and in particular to the Roman College of St. Thomas, the future the right of conferring academic degrees in theology to students outside the Order.
Benedict XIII was suddenly attacked by a catarrh caused by his officiating at the funeral service of Cardinal Marco Antonio Ansidei, of which he died on 21 February 1730 at the age of 81. His death was made public to the people the next day.
The pope was of middling size; his countenance was mild, his nose aquiline and he had a broad forehead. At the autopsy, it was discovered that his heart was remarkably large. His funeral ceremonies were performed at the Vatican, whence he was removed to the Santa Maria sopra Minerva where he was buried in a tomb completed by Pietro Bracci and others.
After the next papal election elevated Pope Clement XII to the pontificate, Clement excommunicated Benedict XIII's corrupt deputy, Cardinal Coscia. Coscia fled Rome and his punishment, but was later restored and took part in the conclaves of 1730 and 1740.
Pope Benedict XIV would later say of Benedict XIII: "We respectfully love that pontiff who backed his carriage rather than dispute the passage with a cartman." On that occasion Benedict XIII had exclaimed to his coachman: "Non ci far impicci"—"Do not involve us in a quarrel." On the other hand, this anonymous satirical comment on Benedict XIII's death was posted at the Pasquino:
The process for his beatification was opened in Tortona in 1755 under Pope Benedict XIV but it did not at all advance and so was stalled. On 21 February 1931, also in Tortona, the process was revitalized but the presumed doubts about the morality of the late pontiff's Cardinal Secretary of State, Niccolò Coscia, caused its closing in 1940.
The process was reopened on 17 January 2004. The official diocesan process commenced in Rome in early 2012 and the official opening of that process was held in the Basilica of Saint John Lateran, presided by Agostino Vallini. The diocesan phase for the beatification process concluded on 24 February 2017 at the Basilica of Saint John Lateran with Vallini celebrating the conclusion of the inquest. He now has the posthumous title of Servant of God.