The Church of his day:
The Church in 1523 was in sad shape. People could not get the spiritual nourishment they needed from the large numbers of uneducated priests some of which were even immoral. They took their money but returned nothing, not even a little food for their souls. When good priests and lay people turned to their leaders for help, they found them at best apathetic and indifferent to their concerns.

How could a good Catholic respond to such a situation? We all known how Luther and others responded -- by splitting away from the Catholic Church when their pleas went unheard. The Rome of those days was the centre not only of religion but also of art and culture but these latter pursuits had overshadowed the main goal of the church. With the excuse of embellishing the churches with art, liturgy and deep conviction were put to one side and a new era of paganism started creeping into the church. The prime fault was of the Roman Prelates and clergy with the rest of the faithful following suit.

We usually talk about the Reformation being started by Martin Luther and others, and also about the Counter Reformation being started within the church to return to the observance of the old basic principles. It is more proper to talk about a Protestant Schism and a Reformation of the church which from those days started to be called Catholic. This Catholic Reformation was a strong reaffirmation of the doctrine and structure of the Catholic Church, climaxing in the Council of Trent, partly reacting to the growth of Protestantism.

We know that one of the causes of the decadence of the Middle Ages was the decadence and incompetence of most members of the clergy, caused by their unbalanced attachment to wealth. The clergy had become extremely rich and attached to their luxurious lifestyle. They assumed a life of pride and human grandeur. Now, according to the Catholic spirit, Bishops and Cardinals are supposed to have the material conditions for a distinguished lifestyle to signify their elevated dignity. They are ecclesiastical princes and they do merit this. In Germany a Bishop was called His Spiritual Highness. It is good, legitimate and correct to address a Prelate like this, and it is good that he should have a high status. But it is one thing is to have what is necessary to sustain the dignity of the position and another to be attached to the material goods that accompany such status. This kind of attachment is totally wrong.

This decadence could be found even at the head of the church itself. During the time Gaetano was living, families in Italy such as the Colonnas, Medicis, Borgias and others, vied with each other to produce candidates for the Papacy. On the other hand, once a Pope from one of these families was elected, many times nepotism was the norm, heaping of benefices on family and creating new cardinals out of members of next of kin. We find, during these times, that many Popes were related to each other and we can find many an uncle or nephew on the seat of Peter. The interest in secular things was also common, with Popes taking care of art in the church buildings more than catering for souls. To top it all, Italy was not yet whole and the Popes acted as temporal leaders with the exact function of ruling the Papal States. This they did with relish, some of them dealing in politics or joining unions of states to fight against others. There was even one who led his armies himself in wars to consolidate the Papal possessions.

But not all was wrong with the Popes of the time. We find that their charity, knowledge of spiritual subjects and work against schismatic trends were at times exemplary.

At the birth of Gaetano, Pope Sixtus IV was in power and though we may know him as the one who commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine chapel, his wars and treachery and his promoting the wrong people to high office in the church, blemish his career as Pontiff. On the other hand he took measures to suppress abuses in the Inquisition, built bridges across the Tiber, improved the sanitary conditions of the city of Rome and most important of all vigorously opposed the first protestant teachings.
Gaetano had acquired his degrees at law when he found a position as secretary or protonotary to the Pope Julius II who appreciated the prowess of our Saint and must have set a good example to Gaetano by attending Mass almost daily and often celebrating it himself. He was also free from nepotism even though he himself was the nephew of Sixtus IV. Like his uncle before him he was patron of the arts. He also made various ordinances for monastic reforms and convoked the Fifth Lateran Council to eradicate abuses within the Church and especially from within the Roman Curia. Some point out his early life and his fathering of three daughters and others comment that he was more suitable as a soldier with his ambition to free the whole of Italy from its subjection to foreign powers. But we may be sure that his dealings with our Gaetano were of positive influence.
When Leo X became pope, his life was in a way in sharp contrast with the one Gaetano was leading. He was of the Medici family and was only thirty eight when he succeeded Julius II. He paid no attention to the dangers threatening the Papacy but gave himself up unrestrainedly to amusements and failed to grasp fully the duties of his high office. He created new offices and dignities and the most exalted places were put up for sale. In spite of all this he was lavish in works of charity, unfeignedly religious and strictly fulfilled his spiritual duties. He celebrated Mass and read his Breviary daily and fasted three times a week. The Lateran Council, continued by Leo was nearing its close, having issued numerous and very timely decrees, so comparison of his life with Gaetanoĺ─˘s is quite difficult to make.
It was during the reign of Pope Clement VII that the political and religious situation of of the Church and of the city of Rome was one of extreme delicacy. Francis I and the Emperor Charles V were at war and the political involvement of the Papacy had led to the sacking of Rome by German troops. These were hard times in the life of Gaetano as we can see in the next chapter. After his close shave in his rush to safety, Clement went for a while to Orvieto and Viterbo, then returned to Rome where terms favourable to the Holy See were definitely arranged with Charles V of Spain who was solemnly crowned by Clement. In all this, one would see in this Pope, feeble diplomacy and a Pope far from heroic for his people. But in the more ecclesiastical aspects of his pontificate Clement was free from reproach and genuinely in earnest over a crusade against the Turks. He gave much encouragement to foreign missions. This reign also saw the problem of Henry VIII forcing the Church in England to break from Catholic unity because of his wish to divorce Anne Boleyn.
Pope Clement VII had constituted a commission with full powers chaired by Cardinal Gilberti and with Bishop Carafa as a member since he had gained a lot of experience within the Theatine order and its front-line activities. This commission did not expect to clean up the mess overnight, but at least it obtained some changes for the better, like thorough study courses at higher level for those to be ordained, strangers of unknown character could no longer be ordained for the payment of a sum of money and also, priests had to tone down the appearance of their clothes and smarten up by shaving the huge beards that had come into fashion. The commission also took care of the problem of absentee pastors and Bishops and even of worse problems like a person having the commission of a Bishop without being ordained even in the Minor Orders.
It was Pope Paul III who lost no time in setting about the most needed reforms. Piety and zeal, which had characterized him after he was ordained priest, caused men to overlook the extravagance of his earlier years. In the constantly recurring quarrels between Francis and Charles, he preserved a strict neutrality. It was he who in 1545 when the disastrous wars between Charles and Francis ended, energetically took up the project of convening the Ecumenical council of Trent. Though Gaetano was in the last two years of his life and had his own problems fighting the protestants in Naples, the news of what was going on in the Council sessions must have been balm for his soul. In seven sessions, the last on the 3rd March 1547 (the year the death of our Saint), the Fathers faced the most important questions of faith and discipline. Catholic doctrine on the Scriptures, original sin, justification, and the Sacraments.
At the Council, Carafa, now Cardinal, had an important part. The ideas he carried forward into the council were nothing but the culmination of the principles of Don Gaetano who had started the Order of Clerics Regular for the express purpose of reform within the Church. But the Council was half ended, when the outbreak of the plague in Trent caused an adjournment to Bologna, then on the 21st April, the Pope prorogued the council indefinitely.

The Council of Trent was held in discontinuous sessions between 1545 and 1563. It clearly specified Catholic doctrines on salvation, the sacraments and the Biblical canon, in opposition to the Protestants, and standardized the Mass throughout the church, largely abolishing local variations; this came to be called the 'Tridentine Mass', (after Trent). From a doctrinal and disciplinary point of view, it was the most important council in the history of the Roman Catholic Church, fixing her distinctive faith and practice in relation to the Protestant Evangelical churches.

Carafa as Pope Paul IV