After Pope Benedict XVI's recent Papal Visit to the United States, Protestant voices have been surprisingly affable in speaking about the man. I don't doubt that his visit left a positive impression for many Protestants. One fellow blogger spoke of the effect that the Pope's visit had on his decision to return to Catholicism. For Protestants willing to consider that a man can be both Pope and a Christian, I imagine most see "B16" as a good Pope. And the same would be said, I imagine, of his predecessor.
But I wonder whether there would be so much discussion of Protestant conversions to Catholicism if we had a really bad pope - a horrible, wicked pope? It seems that when one accepts Catholicism as the proper constitution of Christ's Church, one should not have their faith in the Church swayed at all if a future pope turned out to be a wicked person.
Separate to my discernment on the faith, I've been reading about how the principle of freedom of the seas flows from the political guile of Pope Alexander VI (d. 1503). In a story of political intrigue, he issued a papal bull granting sovereignty to certain states over parts of the sea (thereby excluding others from those areas of the sea). For example, he divided the Atlantic Ocean, giving half to Spain and half to Portugal. Because of this, the Dutch and British were excluded from the lucrative East Indies trade. (Aside: this later led to the Dutch hiring the famous Hugo Grotius (d. 1645) (Protestant) to find a way around the pesky Bull, and the principle of freedom of the seas (embodied in Mare Liberum) was born.)
At any rate, strife-filled international politicking, and the practices of simony and nepotism (for the children born of the Papal Mistress) in Alexander's life are enough to tell me that he was not what even open-minded modern evangelicals would call a good pope. It reminded me that times have not always been so good for the Catholic Magisterium.
I do not mean to dismiss the truth that wicked people and brokenness drive lost souls away from Christ and His Church. That certainly will always be the case, and seems rooted in many points of Scripture (not least of which is John 17). But I still have to ask (of myself) the hypothetical: if the next pope were an Alexander VI, would I still find the arguments for Catholicism and Apostolic succession convincing? Am I merely persuaded by pleasant conditions? One buying Apostolic succession must be accept this possibility and place it in its proper context.