5 Most Scandalous Popes Of All Time

Lent is fully underway and in the spirit of giving things up we thought we’d take a look at one of the hardest things to give up: sex. In the Roman Catholic Church priests, nuns, bishops, cardinals and, of course, Popes take a vow of celibacy. Now, “celibacy” is not actually synonymous with sexual abstinence. To be celibate means to never marry. However, in the Catholic Church, celibacy demands abstinence because sex is not allowed outside of marriage. While many Eastern Catholic Churches will allow married men to be ordained in minor orders, this loophole is rare in the West. Most Catholic churches that seek to ordain married men as priests petition the Vatican for permission, and are typically met with a resounding “no” (though there are the exceptions).

Procreation is in our human nature, so it seems like denying that primal urge to some is a recipe for disaster. Since St. Peter, the world has seen 266 official popes, many of them saintly, upstanding men. However, it’s no surprise that others abused their power, and among the skeletons in the Catholic Church’s closet, are mistresses, malfeasance, and murder. It’d be great ammunition for a reality show: The Real Popes of the Vatican.

5. Pope Alexander VI 1492-1503

We’ll start in the 1400s with Pope Alexander VI, born Roderic de Borja— who might just be the most corrupt pope in history. His uncle Alfonso happened to be a pope, Pope Calixtus III, and ordained him deacon at the age of 25 — no surprise that nepotism was very characteristic of the age. He “worked” his way up the clerical food chain until the death of Pope Innocent VIII, when he was ready to strike, bribing his way into St. Peter’s. Pope Alexander VI carried on the family tradition of appointing relatives in the church.

While enjoying papacy, he also enjoyed an active sex life that yielded at least seven illegitimate children, and possibly as many as 10. He had a long affair with Vannozza dei Cattanei before he was elected, and then while in office had a mistress, Giulia Farnese — the sister of Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III. And for more icing on the cake, during his reign as pope he was suspected of orchestrating murders of his enemies — But, hey, when in Rome!


4. Pope Julius III 1550-1555

In comparison to his predecessors, Giovanni Maria Ciocchi del Monte’s pontificate seems pretty tame. Sure he appointed his family into office and enjoyed the occasional bit of gambling, but the scandal that marked his papacy was his relationship with Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte. Innocenzo was a teenage beggar that Giovanni’s family took in and hired in their residence. After Giovanni became Pope Julius III, his brother officially adopted Innocenzo and Julius then elevated him to the status of cardinal. Rumors began to circulate as the nature of Innocenzo and Julius’ relationship. Many poets expressed their views of the scandal, and the Venetian ambassador reported that the two shared a bed together.


3. Pope Paul III 1534-1549

If you’ve been following carefully you’ll recognize Pope Paul III, aka Alessandro Farnese, the brother of Guilia, Pope Alexander VI’s other mistress. Looks like Guilia was repaid for her service by electing her brother Paul to cardinal. After that, one thing led to another, then boom, he’s the pope. His first order of business was making his teenage grandsons cardinals, too. He also fathered illegitimate children — four of them — with his mistress Silvia Ruffini, but he broke off relations with her before assuming office of the pope.

In office, he was a significant patron of the arts, commissioning Michelangelo for projects on Palazzo Farnese and St. Peter’s Basilica. He is also famous for excommunicating Henry VIII of England, who divorced Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn, after he had already shacked up with her sister Mary Boleyn — remember, The Other Boleyn Girl.


 2. Pope Sergius III 897-911

Pope Sergius has the distinction of being the only pope to order the murder of another pope — Antipope Christopher, who’s believed to have been strangled to death on the pope’s account. Sergius also fathered an illegitimate son from Marozia, the daughter of a powerful count, to help the pope expand his power. It just so happens, that son went on to become Pope John XI.


Born Octavianus, the papacy was practically handed to Pope John XII. His father was described as a self-appointed prince of Rome who made the Roman nobles swear an oath that the next vacancy for the papal chair would be filled by his son. Sure enough, when the reigning pope passed away, Octavianus became Pope John XII at age 18.

The stories about him are shocking. He made an enemy of Holy Roman Emperor Otto as each jockeyed for power. In 963, Otto summoned a council where he accused John of multiple charges, including several adulteries (one with his own niece), ordaining a deacon in a horse stable, taking bribes to ordain bishops (one of which was a 10-year-old), turning the Vatican into a whorehouse, and castrating and killing a subdeacon … and the list goes on. John responded by threatening to excommunicate anyone who attempted to depose him, but the emperor and the council did succeed in doing so — briefly. Returning to Rome in 964, John summoned a synod that pronounced his deposition uncanonical. He then sought revenge on his enemies by mutilating those who had been disloyal. According to the book Keepers of the Keys, “One had his nose, tongue and two fingers cut off, another lost his hand.” John reclaimed his rule in Rome until his murder in 965 — by the husband of the woman he was having an affair with. Classic.


Originally posted on Web2Carz.