Five Very Naughty Popes
So Pope Benedict XVI has been in the news lately for losing paperwork that would have defrocked a child-molesting priest. The American priest in question has been accused of raping hundreds of deaf boys and the Pope may have looked the other way when it came to a conviction. While no one would think the priest’s behavior it tolerable, some are calling for Pope Benedict to resign his office. This has never happened in the history of the Catholic Church. In fact, if it is true, this is minor compared to what some popes have done. Being Palm Sunday, here is a list of five very naughty Popes that have held the keys of Catholicism:
Pope Stephen VI
How do madmen reach positions of power? I originally read about this in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. This pontiff, who only lasted one year as the head of Catholicism, had real issues with his predecessor, Pope Formosus. Between the years of 896-897AD, Pope Steven thought Pope Formosus had reached the papacy under false pretenses. However, Formosus was already dead (you get to be pope for life). So Stephen decided to have his body exhumed and dressed up in full papal garb. For almost a year, the dead pope was on trial! Members of the clergy were called up to testify against him. Formosus was found guilty of all charges, stripped of his vestments, and had three of his fingers removed (I have no idea why?) and they buried him again. Then, they thought maybe he deserved worse treatment, so they dug him up and threw him in the Tiber River to be washed away. Obviously, this treatment to an ex-Pope was too much for the Cardinals to handle, because Pope Stephen VI was thrown into prison shortly afterwards where somehow he was strangled to death, himself.
Pope John XII
When you think of evil, think of Pope John XII (955-964AD). This guy became Pope at the age of 22 and thought it was a good idea to turn the Vatican into a brothel. He had dozens of mistresses, including his father’s favorite prostitute and his own niece. If he really liked a woman, he’d give her lands that were owned by the Catholic Church. On a whim, he decided to turn a 10-year old boy into a Bishop. He was also accused of murder, arson, rape, blasphemy, adultery, and toasting the devil during dinner. Finally, he was killed at the age of 27 by an angry husband who caught the Pope in bed with his wife.
Pope Benedict IX
Here’s a story worthy of a Jerry Springer episode. This Pope was the nephew of two other Popes. He first became Pope at the age of 11 or 12 and held the office between 1032 and 1044. He was obviously too young to have such power because he was accused of adultery, rape, and “unspeakable acts”. He was briefly forced out of the papacy, but was returned with the help of Emperor Conrad II of the Holy Roman Empire. After more crimes, he was kicked out of office again and another Pope (Pope Sylvester III) was elected. Once again, Pope Benedict returned to Rome to take back the papacy. Finally, he just gave up and decided to get married in 1045. He sold the office to his uncle, who would become Pope Gregory VI. Pope Benedict thought it over and decided to come back to Rome, yet again. Now there were three people arguing that they were the “true Pope”. The whole situation had to be intervened by King Henry III of Germany who took the title away from all three of them and put another pope on the throne – Clement II. The story isn’t over, though. Pope Clement II died in 1047 and Benedict returned to Rome ahead of an army and took over the Vatican! He was eventually kicked out by German troops in 1048, although it is unclear of what happened to him. The Catholic Church recognizes Pope Benedict IX serving as Pope on three different occasions.
Pope Alexander VI
One of the famous Borgias, Pope Alexander held the seat from 1492-1503. To give you an idea how bad this guy was, his name is still synonymous with corruption, murder and assassination. He was educated as a lawyer, but after his uncle became Pope, he was quickly made a Bishop and then a Cardinal. He came from a very wealthy family, and although he wasn’t considered in line to be Pope, he most likely bribed his way into the title. Although an excellent administrator, Pope Alexander immediately started filling in important positions in the Church with his family members. He used his power to increase the wealth of his family. Unlike what we typically think of the clergy, Pope Alexander had a family with three sons and a daughter. When his daughter got married, her wedding was one of the largest parties ever held in Rome. The city became a party haven and all sorts of thieves, rogues, and assassins convened on the Papacy for favors from this pope. Alexander threw huge orgies within the walls of the Vatican where any vice could be had. When France set war on the Papal States, Alexander ordered the assassinations of French nobles. His son, Caesar, is said to be responsible for many of these. If Alexander didn’t like you, the likely outcome was your death or worse – imprisonment. The Pope died at the age of 72, amidst rumors that he was accidently poisoned by his own son. His body was so bloated that he barely was able to fit into a coffin and people could barely recognize him.
Pope Clement VII
Another name that reeks of corruption in the Renaissance is the de’ Medici family. Pope Clement was pontiff from 1523 to 1534. He was not as morally corrupt as the other Popes mentioned, but he was a Machiavellian character. He is the reason for war in France, Spain and Germany. When one country appeared weak, he would side with another to gain control. His detractors blamed rape, murder, and vandalism on his maneuverings. While he was pulling the strings of kingdoms throughout Europe – in the name of God – he lost track of his own power. During his reign, the English Reformation happened, in which King Henry VIII, and all of England, left the Church to form their own Protestant Anglican religion. Countries started seceding from the Church and finally Rome was sacked. Because of his excesses, the Renaissance in Rome came to an end. Eventually Pope Clement was captured, imprisoned and eventually poisoned. One good thing did come out of Pope Clement’s reign: He was the one who commissioned Michelangelo to create some of his greatest works, including The Last Judgement, that was paid for a few days before Clement’s death.