(19 Apr. 1024–20 Oct. 1032)
On the death of Benedict VIII (1012–24) the Tusculan family, regarding the papacy as their private property, had his younger brother Romanus elected and enthroned, with the name John. A layman who held office as ‘consul, dux, and senator’, he was said to have obtained the succession by lavish bribery; his elevation from layman to pope in a single day also shocked many. Although generally reckoned an ineffectual pontiff, he was politically astute, and both strengthened his own position and ensured peace by conciliating other noble families, including the displaced Crescentii, and by transferring his brother Alberic from the city judiciary to the Lateran palace.
In the first year of his reign, if the chronicler Rudolf Glaber (c. 990–1046/7) can be trusted, he received a delegation from the eastern patriarch and emperor Basil II (976–1025) seeking his agreement to the recognition of Constantinople as having universal jurisdiction in the east parallel to Rome's in the west; it was the old question of the title ‘ecumenical patriarch’. The delegation brought rich gifts, and John was attracted; but when it got abroad that he was thinking of compromising Rome's universal primacy there was a storm of protest, especially from the monks of Cluny, near Mâcon (Burgundy), and Abbot William of Dijon (990–1031), and he had to climb down. As it stands, the story is suspect; it is inconceivable that the curia would have countenanced his making any such deal. It may recall, however, in garbled form a serious attempt by the Byzantine authorities, not least in view of Benedict VIII's anti-Byzantine policies in south Italy, to reach agreement with Rome about their respective zones of influence. It remains a fact that from this time the pope's name ceased to be mentioned in the diptychs of Constantinople.
Early in 1027 Conrad II (1024–39), successor as German king to Henry II (1002–24), having received the Lombard crown at Pavia, came to Rome, and on 26 Mar. John crowned him emperor in St Peter's, in the presence of kings Rodolphe III of Burgundy (993–1032) and Cnut of England and Denmark (1016/17–35). It is significant that the new emperor neither swore to protect the Roman church nor renewed the Ottonian privilege granted by his predecessors. Indeed, far from establishing a relationship of cooperation with John such as Henry II had had with Benedict VIII, Conrad regarded him as a person of little consequence whom he could use, or even humiliate, as suited his whim. Thus, to gratify his loyal friend Poppo, German archbishop of Aquileia, he obliged the compliant pope to decree not only that Grado, in defiance of an earlier decision of his own, was subject to Aquileia, but that Aquileia was ‘metropolis of all the churches of Italy’ (Apr. and Sept. 1027). Again, when Bishop Warmann of Constance complained that John had granted the abbot of Reichenau the right to wear pontifical vestments at mass, Conrad promptly ordered the abbot to hand the bull and the insignia to the bishop, who publicly burned them. In spite of these disagreements, however, his prestige stood high in the church at large. He made a great impression in 1027 on King Cnut, who obtained from him, in return for the regular payment of Peter's Pence, the remission in future of the exorbitant sums he was in the habit of charging for granting the pallium, as well as the exemption of the English compound in Rome from the customary tribute. For most of his reign he enjoyed excellent relations with Abbot Odilo of Cluny, twice confirming the privileges of the abbey in the most absolute terms and taking effective action against Bishop Gouzlin of Mâcon when he attacked them. In France his decision in May 1031 that Martial, 3rd-century first bishop of Limoges, should rank as an apostle and be commemorated yearly on 30 June, was accepted by all parties as authoritative, though whether he did indeed decree this has recenty been questioned.