FOR reasons that were esoteric even at the time, in January 897 the corpse of Pope Formosus – who died seven months earlier – was exhumed and put on trial in the Basilica of St John Lateran by Pope Stephen VI. Formosus was dressed in the robes of pontifical office and seated on a throne during questioning. He didn’t have much to say. Even in the A.C.T. (‘If at first you don’t succeed…’) this might be viewed as overzealous. Jean-Paul Laurens’ painting, Le Pape Formose et Étienne VI (1870), is accurate in every chronicled particular. The so-called Cadaver Synod had nothing to do with the faith of Formosus and everything to do with revenge, power and the jockeying factions of both peninsula and imperial politics. There were, however, sufficient ambiguities about the legality of the former pope’s appointments and motives to blacken his name. Formosus was found guilty and his body thrown in the Tiber. Unhappily for Stephen, however, it washed ashore. Recovered and honoured by outraged Romans, Formosus’ remains were re-interred in St Peter’s Basilica. His innocence was solemnly decreed and has been accepted ever since.
The Albanese government’s decision to officially censure Scott Morrison today in Parliament is one of the most disgraceful, spiteful and gratuitous vendettas in Canberra’s brief history. Whenever a newly elected premier uses the rubrics of the state to take revenge on a predecessor and demoralise his party, it always marks the advent of at least the mentality of a balmy caudillo. While the Prime Minister is young enough to be considered avuncular rather than antediluvian, his obsession with calumniating Mr Morrison is like the Jan Sixer fanaticism of Joe Biden.
Then there is the risible hypocrisy: by misusing his authority to condemn a legally innocent man, the puffed-up incumbent more seriously undermines democracy and the prestige of his office than ScoMo the polymath ever did. John Howard could have made hay endlessly about Bob Hawke and Paul Keating surreptitiously horsetrading the foremost portfolio of all via the Kirribilli Agreement but he didn’t. For all of his faults, Howard wasn’t a moaner play-acting a grimacing mensch by day and dad-dancing to Midnight Oil by night. Scott Morrison took on added hypothetical burdens to serve the country. On the capital’s lengthy rap-sheet of dereliction, it was no more than a boo-boo. Stephen – Formosus’ hubristic accuser – was strangled, by the way.