Pope Scandals

Is it bad taste to write a post about Papal Scandals?  Heck, we didn’t commit the sins and atrocities, we’re just telling you about them.  Here are the ten biggest Pope Scandals, in chronological order.

Pope Formosus (891-896)


It is hard to tell which is worse:  what this guy did while he was Pope, or what was done to him after he died.  Here are the facts.  Formosus was elected Pope after what was a rocky relationship with Rome.  He was eligable to be Pope as early as 872, but he had some political squabbles and left Rome.  he was ordered to return upon the threat of excommunication, and was accused of conspiring to harm the church.  Formosus died only five years after assuming the Papal responsibilities, and his corpse was brought to trial, dressed in his papal vestments, and convicted as guilty.  They tore off his Pope robes, cut off the three fingers he had used in consecrations, and they threw his body into the Tiber.  A monk pulled the body out of the river, he was buried again, but Pope Sergius III had Formosus exhumed AGAIN, tried him AGAIN, found him guilty AGAIN, and cut off his dead head.  Harsh.

Pope Stephen VI (896-897)

Stephen VI
Even though Pope Formosus had made this guy a bishop, he is the one who put the corpse of Formosus on trial, tore off his vestments, and cut off those fingers.  So, he is a continuation of the aforementioned scandal.

Pope John XII (955-964)

John XII
Born Octavianus, John XII became Pope at the tender age of 18.  He was a known fornicator, having an affair with his father’s concubine, as well as many others.  It is said that he had “made the sacred palace into a whorehouse.”  In addition to his sexual appetites, he was something of a sadist, blinding his confessor, castrating the subdeacon, and setting random fires.  Many people swore that he had toasted the devil on many occasions, and that when gambling (a Pope no-no, BTW) he invoked the “demons” Jupiter and Venus.  Reportedly, he died in bed with a married woman, suffering a stroke in his late twenties.

Pope Benedict IX (1032-1044, 1045, 1047-1048)

Benedictus IX
This is the only Pope to have ever been Pope more than once, and he is the only Pope to have sold to papacy.  That’s mainly the scandal, I suppose.  Benedict’s given name was Theophylactus and he became Pope the first time in 1032 when he was twenty.  He was under-qualified, but came from a prominent family so it sort of just happened.  He was known to hold orgies in the Lateran palace, and he was accused of rape, murder, and torture.  So, because of that, he was forced out of Rome in 1036 but came back, but he was pushed out again and un-Poped in favor of Pope Sylvester III.  Benedict IX retaliated in April of 1045 and took back the title.  In May of the same year, however, he decided he wanted to get married, so he sold his office to his godfather, who became Pope Gregory VI.  By 1047 Benedict had another opportunity to be Pope and seized the palace, only to be driven away by the German soldiers in July of 1048.  He was excommunicated, but it seems that the next Pope lifted the ban and when Benedict died in 1056 he was buried in consecrated ground.

Pope Innocent III (1198-1216)

Pope Innocent III

This was the guy behind the Fourth Crusade.  In case you didn’t know, the Fourth Crusade was intended to take Jerusalem back from the Muslims, and the Christians sent to the fight were told that they were guaranteed a spot in heaven if they died during the crusade.  Hm.  Instead, the Western European crusaders took Constantinople away from the Eastern Orthodox Christians, thus creating the final straw between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches.  The crusaders did a fair amount of pillaging, and though Innocent condemned them at first, he happily accepted the plundered items and sought no punishment for the crusaders.

Pope Alexander VI (1492-1503)

Pope Alexander VI
Born Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia in 1431, Pope Alexander VI was so scandalous that his last name became a word that embodied the state of the Papacy at his time.  The state, by the way, was not one the church looked favorably upon.  At first it seemed like Alexander was going to do OK.  Then, he started floating money to his family members that he took from his neighbors.  He fathered as many as five children with his mistress, a courtesan named Vannozza dei Cattani who, in point of fact, was married to someone else.  Rome went to hell in a handbasket, teeming with criminals, prostitutes, and the like.  Alexander didn’t even try to condemn this behavior.  He arranged lavish dances and plays and made Italy vulnerable to invasion with his lack of attention to his duties.  Oh yeah, and he reportedly fathered a son with one of his daughters.  What?

Pope Julius II (1503-1513)

Pope Julius II
Also known as “The Warrior Pope” and “The Fearsome Pope,” Julius II (nee Guiliano della Rovere) is the guy who focred Michelangelo to finish the Sistine Chapel so quickly, as well as commissioning Michelangelo to create his tomb.  The Sistine Chapel took 4 years.  The tomb took 40, and was never finished to Michelangelo’s satisfaction.  Julius had a few mistresses and at least one child, and he was accused of being a sodomite “covered in shameful ulcers.”  He also wore a beard, something forbidden by the papacy.

Pope Clement VII (1513-1523)

Pope Clement VII

In the grand scheme of things, this pope is not as scandalous (nor was ol’ Julius) as some of the other Popes we’ve seen.  That’s one thing about listing them chronologically.  Some of the early Popes were real doozies.  Pope Clement VII was sort of wishy-washy.  He was pretty indifferent to the Protestant Reform (what’s up, Henry III?) and had wavering alliances with France, Spain, AND Germany.  He liked whoever had the most money.  Yes, that’s wrong and scandalous.  But compared to the Fourth Crusade and rape and torture?  Corrupt, not monstrous.

Pope Pius XII (1939-1958)

Pope Pius XII

This can be summed up in a simple sentence.  Pope Pius XII, though he was aware of the Nazi’s systematic transportation of and murder of Jews from all over Europe, failed (nay, refused) to publicly denounce the Nazis.  Now, in his defense, the Nazis were super scary, and he was likely making sure the Vatican didn’t get raided.  AND he protected a few hundred Italian Jews from the Nazis and MAY have been part of a plot to kill Hitler, but it was his responsibility to say the church was against the systematic murdering of over half the Jews in the world, dontcha think?

Pope Benedict XVI (2005-now)

Pope Benedict XVI

The jury is still out as to the current Pope’s involvement with any sex scandal cover-ups.  Allegedly, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican section that tries and defrocks (or proves innocence) priests accused of crimes,  ignored many allegations against priests regarding sexual abuse.  Pope Benedict (then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger) was the head of that office from 1981 to 2005, when he became Pope.  Since there is no evidence that this happened during his tenure in that office, and because he has been active in promoting the necessity to try priests accused of this type of behavior, some church officials are saying that this scandal should in no way mar Benedict’s legacy.  Time will tell, but we’re hoping Benedict speaks up for himself and has nothing to hide.  No more scandalous Popes!