(18 Dec. 1352–12 Sept. 1362)
Although it only lasted two days, the conclave at Avignon following Clement VI's death made a determined attempt to restrict the pope's autocracy and augment the influence of the sacred college. All 25 cardinals present swore, several with reservations, that the pope should not create cardinals until the total fell below sixteen, that there should not be more than twenty, and that the choice of new cardinals should require the consent of at least two-thirds of the existing ones. Such consent should also be necessary for proceedings against a cardinal or for the alienation of any part of the papal state; half the revenues of the holy see, as allotted by Nicholas IV in 1289, should be guaranteed to the college. These and other provisions having been agreed, the conclave, anxious to preclude interference by the French king, speedily elected Étienne Aubert, a Limousin born in 1282 at Les-Monts-de-Beyssac, near Pompadour, a distinguished jurist who had been professor of law at Toulouse, held a number of legal appointments in the same city and was later chief judge there (1330–34). After taking orders, he rose to become bishop of Noyon (1338) and then of Clermont (1340). His fellow-countryman Clement VI named him cardinal priest of SS. Giovanni e Paolo on 20 Sept. 1342, cardinal bishop of Ostia on 13 Feb. 1352, and appointed him grand penitentiary (29 June 1348) and administrator of the see of Avignon in the absence of a bishop.
Fifth of the Avignon popes, Innocent was prematurely old, shaky in health and sometimes indecisive, but showed his independence by soon (6 July 1353) declaring the compact or capitulation agreed by the conclave, to which he himself had assented subject to its being lawful, null as violating the rule restricting business during a conclave to the election and as infringing the plenitude of power inherent in the papal office. Meanwhile, reviving the spirit of Benedict XII, he set about reforming the curia and eradicating abuses. The papal household was reduced and its lifestyle simplified (changes which in any case his parlous finances made necessary); clergy were obliged to reside in their benefices and pluralities were discouraged; aspirants to offices had to produce evidence of their fitness; to ensure impartiality the auditors, i.e. judges, of the Rota were assigned fixed stipends. His reforming zeal embraced the orders too: he gave strong support to the grand master of the Dominicans in restoring discipline, and took severe measures with the Knights of St John. He was particularly harsh on the Spiritual Franciscans, and on his orders the Inquisition sent several of them to prison or the stake. Because of his sternness the saintly Bridget of Sweden (1373), who was then in Rome and had hailed his election with enthusiasm, turned against him and denounced him as a persecutor of Christ's sheep. Nevertheless, while listening in consistory in 1357 to the attacks of Archbishop FitzRalph of Armagh (1347–60) on the privileges of the mendicants, he refrained from publicly endorsing them. He created fifteen cardinals in three consistories, all but two of whom were French: of the latter, three were nephews.