Bruno of Carinthia was born around 970-972 in Stainach, Duchy of Carinthia. This is in the southern part of what is, today, Austria, not too far from the Italian border. It is at the eastern end of the Alps. It was part of the Holy Roman Empire. His father was Otto I of Carinthia, the grandson of Emperor Otto I. Thus, Bruno can be said to be of royal blood.
When Pope John XV died in March 996, Romans sent word to Emperor Otto III asking for a nomination for a new pope. The emperor immediately nominated his 24-year-old cousin, his chaplain, Bruno. The young cardinal was said to be gifted. He was conversant with Roman literature, and fluent in German, literary Latin and the vulgar Italian. Otto III then accompanied Bruno to Rome, where the young cardinal was consecrated 6 May 996. Two weeks later, the new Pope, having taken the name Gregory V, repaid his cousin and crowned Otto Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The two worked together throughout Gregory’s reign.
The cousins jointly called a synod days later. During that synod, Arnulf, imprisoned by French king Hugh Capet, was released and returned to his see at Rheims. Gerbert of Aurillac was condemned as an intruder for taking Arnulf’s see, but not punished.
Then Otto III returned to Germany. Meanwhile, the Roman nobles had no intention of living with a German pope nominated by a German emperor. With Crescentius II, the Roman dictator, leading the way, they elected their own pope. John, a man of Greek descent who was born in southern Italy, was more to their liking. He was the chaplain to Empress Theophanu, widow of Otto II and mother to Otto III. Since the empress was Greek, the Byzantine Emperor Basil II supported this new pope. The Eastern Church was not happy with the Franks spreading their influence in Italy. The Romans violently unseated Gregory, who escaped to Pavia. John took the name John XVI in late 996.
Within months, Gregory called a synod to meet at Pavia. It was only attended by Western bishops. The synod excommunicated Crescentius and John, and reinstated Gregory. This led to a revolt by Crescentius and his supporters. Otto came to the rescue with his soldiers by February 998. Crescentius went into hiding at Castel Sant’Angelo.
John XVI, knowing that the imperial army was coming, escaped. But Otto’s soldiers chased him down. They tortured him by cutting off his nose, ears, and tongue. They blinded him, broke his fingers and took him back to Rome. He was publicly paraded through Rome, seated backwards on a donkey, as the emperor and the pope watched. His life was spared due to the intercession of St. Nilus the Younger, who also berated the cruelty of his treatment. He was sent to the monastery of Fulda to live out his life.
Other soldiers found Crescentius when they besieged Castel Sant’Angelo. They hung him from the walls.
During his short reign, Gregory gave many privileges to German monasteries, at the request of Otto. They called synods for the regulation of ecclesiastical affairs. In one, King Richard of France was forced to give up his marriage to Bertha of Burgundy, because they were first cousins. Gregory was also able to affect the Church in England by giving advice to the bishop of Canterbury as to the type of men who should rule the diocese.
Gregory died suddenly 18 February 999. He was not yet 30. Some sources say he died of malaria. Others suspect foul play. He was buried in St. Peter’s Basilica.