Throughout history, many have been called to take up the mantle of leading God’s church - to be the mortal voice of divine decrees, settling disputes and acting as the final word on religious truths. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean every man to rise to the title of pope has been... without sin. As these five examples from across the papal spectrum reveal.
Pope Alexander VI hosted a very memorable Joust of the Whores
When we think of the popes who have presided over Catholicism in recent decades, it’s difficult to imagine them inviting 50 dancers to slowly strip while they ate dinner. It’s even harder to picture one of them throwing chestnuts on the floor for these dancers to snatch up, before handing out prizes for the guy who could have sex with the most women in one sitting. But Alexander VI was a Borgia before he was a pope, so his turn in the cassock was always going to be debauched.
Innocent VIII was anything but
He isn’t on this list for his eight acknowledged bastard children, nor is he here for the many more who went unacknowledged. He isn’t even on here for starting the Inquisition that ruined so many people’s lives through torture and fear. No, the enormously corpulent and otiose Innocent VIII makes the outrageous top five for his insistence on suckling fresh milk from the boob of a wet nurse – on his deathbed. What a beast.
Pope Sixtus IV turned a profit from sex (not just with family members)
A tax on prostitutes! What an ingenious idea, you might think while dreaming up ways to add more to the church coffers. It’s the kind of sin tax that sees cigarette and alcohol prices rise today, so it makes sense if you’re looking for a financial disincentive against bad behaviour. Pope Sixtus IV also charged his priestly underlings for having mistresses, which also sounds like he was taking a moral stand... until you learn he had six illegitimate children of his own, and one of them was with his sister. Eww.
Sergius III was known as “the slave of every vice”
When you kick off your papal career by killing the man who came before you, and you’ve already killed the man who came before him, it’s hard to present yourself as a symbol of Christlike wholesomeness. Nevertheless, Sergius III not only held onto power for seven years, he also set things up so that the son he allegedly fathered with his teenage prostitute noble mistress, Marozia, became Pope John XI 20 years after him. Marozia, a formidable woman, also ended up with two grandsons, two great-grandsons and one great-great-grandson as popes.
Pope Boniface VIII had his own place reserved in Hell
Sex romps with a mother and daughter are one thing, but declaring sex with young boys to be no more a sin than rubbing one hand against the other... well, it isn’t difficult to see why Dante placed Boniface VIII in the eighth circle of Hell when writing Inferno. Technically he’s there for the sin of simony, considered worse than paedophilia or even having the Italian city of Palestrina razed and salted over a feud, killing 6000 people. But we digress.
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