5 Worst Popes





Pope Stephen VI: had his predecessor exhumed, tried, de-fingered, and thrown to the river
Stephen VI was Pope from 896 to 897. Fueled by his anger with Pope Formosus, his predecessor, he exhumed Formosus's rotting corpse and put "him" on trial, in the so-called "Cadaver Synod" in January, 897.

With the corpse propped up on a throne, a deacon was appointed to answer for the deceased pontiff, who was condemned for performing the functions of a bishop when he had been deposed and for receiving the pontificate while he was the bishop of Porto, among other revived charges that had been leveled against Formosus in the strife during the pontificate of John VIII. The corpse was found guilty, stripped of its sacred vestments, deprived of three fingers of its right hand (the blessing fingers), clad in the garb of a layman, and quickly buried; it was then re-exhumed and thrown in the Tiber.

All ordinations performed by Formosus were annulled.
The trial excited a tumult. Though the instigators of the deed may actually have been Formosus' enemies of the House of Spoleto (notably Guy IV of Spoleto), who had recovered their authority in Rome at the beginning of 897 by renouncing their broader claims in central Italy, the scandal ended in Stephen's imprisonment and his death by strangling that summer.




Pope Benedict IX: the Pope who sold the papacy
Benedict IX was Pope from 1032 to 1044, again in 1045, and finally from 1047 to 1048, the only man to have served as Pope for three discontinuous periods. Benedict gave up his papacy for the first time in exchange for a large sum of money in 1044. He returned in 1045 to depose his replacement and reigned for one month, after which he left again, possibly to marry, and sold the papacy for a second time, to his Godfather (possibly for over 650 kg /1450 lb of gold).

Two years later, Benedict retook Rome and reigned for an additional one year, until 1048. Poppo of Brixen (later to become Pope Damascus II) eventually forced him out of Rome. Benedict’s place and date of death are unknown, but some speculate that he made further attempts to regain the Papal Throne. St. Peter Damian described him as “feasting on immorality” and “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest” in the Liber Gomorrhianus, a treatise on papal corruption and sex that accused Benedict IX of routine homosexuality and bestiality.



Pope Sergius III: ordered the murder of another pope and started the "pornocracy"
Sergius III was Pope from 897 to 911, and has been the only pope known to have ordered the murder of another pope and the only known to have fathered an illegitimate son who later became pope; his pontificate has been described as "dismal and disgraceful." The pontificate of Sergius III was remarkable for the rise of what papal historians call a "pornocracy," or rule of the harlots, a reversal of the natural order as they saw it, according to Liber pontificalis and a later chronicler who was also biased against Sergius III. This "pornocracy" was an age with women in power: Theodora, whom Liutprand characterized as a "shameless whore... [who] exercised power on the Roman citizenry like a man" and her daughter Marozia, the mother of Pope John XI (931–935) and reputed to be the mistress of Sergius III.



Pope John XII: raped female pilgrims and invoked pagan gods
John XII was Pope from 955 to 964. On 963, Holy Roman Emperor Otto I summoned a council, levelling charges that John had ordained a deacon in a stable, consecrated a 10-year-old boy as bishop of Todi, converted the Lateran Palace into a brothel, raped female pilgrims in St. Peter's, stolen church offerings, drank toasts to the devil, and invoked the aid of Jove, Venus, and other pagan gods when playing dice. He was deposed, but returned as pope when Otto left Rome, maiming and mutilating all who had opposed him. On 964, he was apparently beaten by the husband of a woman with which he was having an affair, dying three days later without receiving confession or the sacraments.





Pope Leo X: sold indulgences, killed cardinals
Leo X was Pope from 1513 to his death in 1521. He is known primarily for the sale of indulgences to reconstruct St. Peter's Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther's 95 theses. According to Alexandre Dumas, "under his pontificate, Christianity assumed a pagan character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus."

When he became Pope, Leo X is reported to have said to his brother Giuliano: “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” His extravagance offended not only people like Martin Luther, but also some cardinals, who, led by Alfonso Petrucci of Siena, plotted an assassination attempt. Eventually, Pope Leo found out who these people were, and had them followed. The conspirators died of “food poisoning.”


Some people argue that Leo X and his followers simply concocted the assassination charges in a moneymaking scheme to collect fines from the various wealthy cardinals Leo X detested.

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