One of the chief scourges in the history of the papacy has been nepotism. Renaissance popes especially engaged in this foul practice of granting Church offices to undeserving nephews, cousins, siblings, and even sons. Too often the Red Hat was given to relatives of Popes who were quite unqualified for the task, some even receiving it while they were still in their teens. The height of papal nepotism occurred during the 15th and 16th centuries, and it was not until Pope Innocent XII’s bull Romanum decet Pontificem in 1692 that the evil of nepotism was finally curbed in the Vatican.
Why do I bring this up today? Because today we celebrate the feast of St. Charles Borromeo, who was the product of papal nepotism: he was made a bishop and Cardinal by his uncle, Pope Pius IV. I find the scandal of Borromeo’s appointment to be very in keeping with how God works in this world. Throughout the Old Testament you find people acting in scandalous ways, but God uses those imperfect actions to effect His Will. And what is more scandalous than the Cross? In the Cross we see the “failure” of Christ – yet it is exactly that failure which brings our redemption. Church history is littered with sinful and imperfect men and women who Christ uses to extend His Gospel to the ends of the earth.
Pope Pius IV gave his nephew a plum ecclesial appointment, one that perhaps should have been given to a more “deserving” candidate. Yet God raised up St. Charles Borromeo to be one of the great reformers of the Church who did much to bring countless souls to Christ. Never doubt that God can work in any situation to bring about good. As St. Paul wrote, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28). All things.
St. Charles Borromeo, pray for us!