Who were the worst Popes in history?

Following in the footsteps of St. Peter, the Pope is there to lead followers of the Catholic Church and act as a moral role model. Unfortunately for St. Peter and the church some Popes in history seem to have their own ideas…

For centuries, the Catholic church has been ruled by the Pope, who was the symbol of Christlike wholesomeness and an important moral voice to some of the world’s most pressing political and social issues. However, despite their reputation for being the righteous and ethical member in the Catholic world, this hasn’t always been the case. 

  • John XII

    From taking to the throne at a mere age of eighteen, it was never going to be a great start for Pope John XII. His young heart was not ready for the life of a Pope and soon transformed his residence into a brothel. Going further down the rabbit hole, he took part in murdering, invoking demons, and even having sexual relations with his sisters. His promiscuity ended up being his demise however after a husband caught his wife in bed with John XII and beat the pope so badly, that he died three days later from his injuries.

  • Boniface VIII

    A famous and horrifying quote of Boniface VIII was that paedophilia was no more problematic than “rubbing one hand against the other.” Elected in 1294, Boniface VIII established a string of statues all around the city and even destroyed the city Palestrina over a personal feud. He had a reputation for stubbornness and a knack for starting fights. 

  • Benedict IX

    Benedict IX was pope on 3 separate occasions during his lifetime, with the first being when he was just 12 years old. He grew to be a wicked boy and ran from the position to hide within the city when political opponents tried to murder him. In the time between his reigns, he started thieving, murdering and committing other ‘unspeakable deeds’ throughout the city. He became pope again in 1045, which only last a rough 2 months before someone paid him to leave. Two years after leaving a second time, he tried again, lasting only eight months this time before he was eventually driven out to never return again.

  • Alexander VI

    Alexander VI started off with his papacy with a defying bang, only getting the position of Pope by bribing his fellow cardinals. Before becoming Pope, he was a member of Borgias, the Italian crime family, and his attitude did not change after becoming Pope. During his time, multiple conspiracies and dishonesty surrounded him and his decisions. As well as being a conniving pope in politics, he was also a promiscuous one. He fathered at least nine children that we know of and was famous for hosting a series of orgies throughout his reign, with one being named ‘Joust of Whores.’ He gets even worse when you see the multiple reports where Alexander VI engaged in incest with his daughter, Lucrezia.

  • Sergius III

    Sergius III didn’t just kill the Pope prior to him, but he also killed the pope before that, timing his arrival to reign perfectly. He then used his power to set up his son, Pope John XI, fathered by his 15-year-old prostitute mistress, to be Pope twenty years after him.

  • Leo X

    Leo X is famous for his lavish spending during his reign, becoming a patron of the arts who commissioned the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica. After the church’s wallet got a bit lighter, Leo X then convinced believers they could buy their way to heaven, selling indulgences that would reduce their sins.

  • Stephen VI

    This Pope started off his reign with a grisly show, digging up his predecessor, the Pope Formosus, and displaying his dead body to stand trial. Formosus’s limp body was propped up on a throne as Stephen VI shouted unanswerable questions at it, accusing him of blasphemy during his supremacy. Unsurprisingly, the dead pope lost, and his body was flung into the Tiber River. Later, however, the body was recovered from the river and given a proper burial by Formosus’ followers. Stephen VI was later imprisoned and strangled to death by Formosus’ supporters.

  • Sixtus IV

    Sixtus IV started his reign in 1471 and is primarily remembered for commissioning the Sistine Chapel. Despite this stunning creation, it did not overshadow his sins, for he was known to have a large sexual appetite during his time as pope. He had six illegitimate children, with one a result of incest with his sister. Despite his sexual indulgences, he was quite the hypocritic, and strictly policed others. Creating a tax on prostitutes and charging priests who had mistresses.

  • Innocent VIII

    Innocent VIII was not so innocent! He was the very first pope in existence to openly confirm his illegitimate children, which was around eight kids at the time, with speculation of it growing. Before his open admission, these bastards were simply known as the Pope’s ‘nephews.’ He was also known to be a big supporter of witch hunting, blessing the act in 1484.

  • Julius II

    Starting his reign in 1503, Julius II was known for being domineering, hot-headed, and a manic at times. But by far his worst feature was his severe case of Syphilis, contracting it via prostitutes. It was documented that on Good Friday, his feet were so covered by sores that no one was able to kiss them.

  • Paul IV

    Known as one of the worst Popes for his horrific acts of anti-semitism. Instead of being the moral symbol of the Church, Paul IV instead created a Jewish ghetto in a section of the Roman city. Forcing Jewish citizens to publicize themselves by wearing yellow hats. He was such a hated Pope, that after his death, citizens celebrated by tearing down statues of him throughout the city.

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