Factbox: papal scandals in history


As Pope Benedict XVI struggles with allegations of sex abuse cover up, we look at some of the scandals that have plagued past Pontiffs.

9th Century

- Pope Stephen VI exhumes the rotting corpse of his predecessor Pope Formosus and puts it on trial. A deacon is appointed to speak on behalf of the corpse, which is eventually found guilty and stripped of its sacred vestments, desecrated and reburied in the clothes of a commoner. The body is them exhumed again and thrown into the Tiber River. All decrees handed down by Formosus are annulled.

10th Century

- The reign of Pope John XII is considered one of the darkest periods in the church's history. Born a Prince, Pope John XII was pushed into the papacy by his father. He was notoriously promiscuous and is said to have given away land to his mistresses. He quickly made enemies in Rome, and was deposed from office. He was briefly forced into hiding, but returned to Rome before dying in mysterious circumstances.

11th Century

- Pope Benedict IX was one of the youngest Pope's ever selected, though uncertainty rages as to his age at appointment. A dozen years after becoming Pope, Benedict IX gave up the role in order to pursue marriage. He sold the office to his grandfather, who became Pope Gregory VI. Benedict soon regretted his decision and returned to Rome, proclaiming himself the true Pope, though most recognised Gregory as the legitimate ruler.

13th Century

- A number of writings from the Middle Ages suggest Catholic Church was led for a few years by a female Pope, known as Pope Joan or Pope Agnes. In 1601, Pope Clement VIII declared the legend of a female Pontiff as untrue.

- Author Dante places Pope Boniface VIII in the circle of Hell in his epic poem the Divine Comedy, for simony, or paying for sacraments and favours within the Catholic Church. The move sparks off a long-running feud between the writer and the religious institution.

15th Century

- Pope Innocent VIII instigates several harsh measures against magicians and witches in Europe. Starvation, caused by crop failures and bad weather, is attributed to the supernatural. The decree leads to systemic persecution of these so-called witches. The Pope was also accused of institutionalising simony, and creating new positions in the Church which could then be sold off to the highest bidder.

20th Century

- Pope Pius XII has been criticised for not doing enough to help Jews in WWII. He rejected several calls for help on the grounds of neutrality, but did speak out against violence and injustice in general. He never publicly condemned the Holocaust, but he asked Catholic institutions in Italy to take in Jews when deportations of Italian Jews were imminent.

- Pope Benedict XVI is criticised for being a member of Hitler Youth during WWII. German-born Benedict, then Joseph Ratzinger, says it was compulsory for young boys to join the movement, and that opposition to the Nazi regime was difficult. He says he did not attend Hitler Youth meetings, and no member of the Ratzinger family was ever a member of the Nazi Party.


- United States Conference of Catholic Bishops commissions a report on sexual abuse by priests and deacons, commonly referred to as the John Jay report. This is the most comprehensive survey of its kind in the US, and is tabled in response to a sex abuse scandal, prompted largely by a series of stories by the Boston Globe. The report found only six per cent of priests who were accused of abuse were eventually convicted, and only two per cent received jail terms.


- The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse, commonly known as the Ryan report, is published in Ireland. The report investigated abuse from 1936 onwards. It found sexual abuse was endemic in institutions that deal with boys, and found evidence of physical and emotional abuse, as well as neglect and a lack of supervision, in a number of other Catholic-run organisations. The Ryan report was initially intended to name and shame abusers, but a legal challenge from the Christian Brothers prohibited the publication of the identities of the accused.


- Pope Benedict XVI is accused of covering up sex scandals, after a letter he wrote to heads of churches in 2001 asking for utmost secrecy while investigating claims of abuse, is revealed. The Pontiff was head of the Vatican body investigating abuse when he wrote the letter. Pope Benedict is further implicated as accusations of sex abuse in his homeland of Germany emerge. Critics say it is unlikely he did not know about sex scandals there. Former choirboys in the Regensburg choir, led for three decades by the Pope's brother, say they were subjected to beatings and sexual abuse, but both the Pope and his brother deny knowledge of such treatment. The scandal tarnishes the Holy See's reputation.

Source: SBS