Sometimes writers, even Bishops and Archbishops whom we both respect and love, raise questions which, if followed, might lead to a conclusion that the present de facto occupant of the Roman See lacks legitimacy. This worries me, for reasons that I prefer to approach historically.
What follows is taken from A Popular History by Mgr Philip Hughes, edition of 1946/7. I am doing this because if I myself composed the story now, it might be suspected that I am crafting the narrative to fit parallels in our present situation.
" ... on April 8, 1378, with all the mob of the city howling around the Vatican, 'Elect an Italian or you die', the sixteen terrified cardinals chose ... the archbishop of Bari ... he took the name of Urban VI.
"Was Urban VI (1378-1389) validly elected?Almost universally scholars today assert that he was. But there was, in the circumstances of the election, enough of a case to be exploited against its validity should it be to anyone's interest to do so ...
" ... his actions were such that there is something to be said for the theory that his reason had suffered ... Certain it is that his tactless, tyrannous manner speedily alienated the cardinals who elected him ... One of his most loyal supporters was St. Catherine of Siena, and we find her writing to him: 'For the love of Jesus crucified, Holy Father, soften a little the sudden movements of your temper.'
"Slowly the opposition grew, and the cardinals ... began to escape from the city. In June Urban tried to win them back, but the only result was to provoke a declaration that they doubted if the election made had been valid--and this after three months in which they had all repeatedly recognised him, sought and accepted favours from him as pope and proclaimed his as pope in a joint letter to the Christian world.
"In August they announced that he was no pope. They had elected him simply to escape the death that otherwise awaited them ... They proceeded to a new election and--the three Italians not voting--unanimously chose the cardinal Robert of Geneva ... He called himself Clement VII.
"All the cardinals--with one exception--recognised Clement as pope. What was Christendom to do? How was it to decide between the conflicting accounts of the rivals? And how was it to judge on which occasion this same body of cardinals had really, by unanimous vote, elected a pope, in April or in September?"
To be concluded.