Near the end of the Middle Ages, corruption in the Catholic Church was a serious dilemma. Members of the clergy were supposed to be well educated, but many priests were illiterate and barely knew how to perform common religious services. Also, priest and nuns in spite of taking vows of chastity engaged in sexual relationships. Even the popes, innocent VIII and Alexander VI, fathered and raised children. Many of the abbots and bishops exploited their positions to lead lives of luxury and leisure. They resembled princes before humble servants of god. The cardinals of Rome lived in magnificent palaces and wore jewel-encrusted gold robes.
The Church came up with several corrupt methods to pay for these luxurious lifestyles. The church told its people that pilgrimages to sites of relics and holy places were suitable ways to repent for their sins. During the later years of the Middle Ages, some clergy took advantage of this tradition and charged people to see holy relics. Frederick I, a prince in northern Germany, had a compilation of over seventeen thousand relics that supposedly included a piece of Moses’ burning bush, thirty three fragments of Jesus’ cross, and some straw from Jesus’ manger. The money from pilgrimages to these relics paid for the building of a cathedral, a castle, and a university in Frederick’s kingdom. Simony (which is the practice of selling church items to the highest bidder regardless of the buyer’s religious background or teachings) was another practice that earned money for the Church.
The most profitable and controversial of the corrupt practices used to raise money for the Church was the selling of indulgences. In the beginning, an indulgence was just a certificate given by the pope to a person whose sins had been forgiven. This certificate was intended to cancel some or all of the punishment a person would suffer after death for their sins. Though it was never officially stated by the church, many members of clergy taught that salvation was attained simply through the purchase of enough indulgences.