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A number of weaknesses plagued the Church which ultimately led to the Protestant Reformation. Among them:
- An uneducated clergy: Priests were supposed to receive at least a minimal education; however following the tremendous losses occasioned by the Black Death, Church officials were anxious to promote new priests, and rarely enforced educational requirements. Priests often mumbled the words of the Latin Liturgy which they themselves did not understand. A classic example is the phrase hoc est mea corpus("this is my body") uttered by the Priest during Eucharist. Priests so often slaughtered the pronunciation that it soon became "hocus pocus."
- Also as a result of clerical losses caused by the Black Death, Church officials promoted those who were not morally fit to be priests. Although they were supposed to live a life of chastity, many kept wives or concubines with abandon. At the same time, many drank heavily, gambled, and engaged in all sorts of immoral conduct.
- Since high church offices entitled one to collect church taxes, these offices were often quite profitable. High offices were often sold to those who could pay for it, a practice known as "simony," named for Simon the Magician from the Book of Acts in the New Testament. Even the office of Pope was for sale at times, leading to bitter controversy between leading Italian families whose sons had been promoted to Cardinal.
- Although church policy prohibited one from holding more than one office, a practice known as "pluralism," it also was practiced with abandon. Also, many high church officials never visited the diocese to which they were appointed. Antoine du Prat, Archbishop of Sens, France, never entered the Cathedral in his diocese until he was carried in for his own funeral.
There are lessons to be learned from history, of course; and the Church has learned its lesson. Safeguards are not in place to prevent the recurrence of abuses such as this.
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