NYer, was it the holy Spirit that selected Alexander VI, or the spirit of simony? What about the other “bad Popes?”
Borgia, by a bare two-thirds majority secured by his own vote, was proclaimed Pope on the morning of 11 Aug., 1492, and took the name of Alexander VI. That he obtained the papacy through simony was the general belief (Pastor, loc. cit.) and is not improbable (Raynaldus, Ann. eccl. ad an. 1492, n. 26), though it would be difficult to prove it juridically, at any rate, as the law then stood the election was valid.
In a recent interview, Benedict XVI was asked the same question. His response provides some insight:
I would not say so, in the sense that the Holy Spirit picks out the Pope I would say that the Spirit does not exactly take control of the affair, but rather like a good educator, as it were, leaves us much space, much freedom, without entirely abandoning us. Thus the Spirits role should be understood in a much more elastic sense, not that he dictates the candidate for whom one must vote. Probably the only assurance he offers is that the thing cannot be totally ruined. There are too many contrary instances of popes the Holy Spirit obviously would not have picked!
Over the centuries, the process has evolved into what we witnessed this week. If you have watched any coverage of this event, you probably heard much said about the setting: The Sistine Chapel. As the cardinal prepares to vote, he carries the document with the name up to a large urn placed on top of an altar. He is facing Michelangelo's Last Judgement, a fresco that even features a cardinal in hell. He then avows:
'I call on the Lord Jesus who will be my judge to witness that I am voting for the one I believe to be worthy'
That is a powerful moment for the cardinal as he is reminded of how his vote will be held accountable at the Last Judgement.
As for the "bad popes", it is interesting to note that not one of them ever erred in teaching on matters of faith or morals. THAT is testimony of how the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church, through an unbroken line of successors all the way back to St. Peter.
Thank you for the question!