10 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously

Despite the vow of celibacy that is a cornerstone of the Catholic priesthood, throughout history there were many popes that were not celibate. These romantically active popes included those who had long-term partners and even a few popes that had children. While this kind of moral and spiritual dishonesty is now considered to be a thing of the past, at the time, this blatant hypocrisy fed into popular anger over deceit within the Catholic Church, adding to the great turmoil surrounding the Church during volatile times.

Here are some of the more egregious examples of popes who didn't adhere to celibacy.    


  • Pope Alexander VI Fathered Nine Children

    Pope Alexander VI Fathered Nine Children
    Photo: Unknown / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Rodrigo de Borja, AKA Pope Alexander VI, brought misconduct within the Catholic Church to unprecedented levels. Connected to the Spanish branch of the powerful Borgia ecclesiastical dynasty, he was appointed a cardinal by his uncle and eventually became the vice-chancellor of the Catholic Church, acquiring tremendous wealth by selling offices and indulgences to the wealthy.

    He didn't even maintain the pretense of celibacy, ultimately acknowledging four children with his upper-class Roman mistress Vannozza Catanei. He had five other children from various other mistresses, children he claimed as nieces or nephews.

    His son Cesare (the model for Machiavelli's The Prince) would resign his cardinalate and marry a French noblewoman. Alexander's daughter Lucrezia would engage in various notorious affairs and three marriages; historical speculation has abounded about her also engaging in intrafamilial relations.

  • Paul II Allegedly Passed While Sexually Engaged With A Male Page

    Paul II was a 15th-century pope who was engaged in minor conflicts for his seven-year tenure. Celibacy may have been an issue, as the manner and circumstances of his passing are disputed. Official accounts have him succumbing to heart failure after eating an excessive amount of melon.

    Other accounts, possibly originating with papal enemies, assert that Paul II passed during the intimate act of a young male page entering him from the rear. That he thoroughly enjoyed dressing up in elaborate vestments also contributed to rumors of "effeminacy" and homosexuality.    

  • Pope Julius II Was 'Covered With Shameful Ulcers'

    Pope Julius II Was 'Covered With Shameful Ulcers'
    Photo: Aavindraa / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Born Giuliano Della Rovere, Pope Julius II became pope in 1503. Today he is most famous as the artistic patron of Michelangelo and other prominent Renaissance artists, and for the rebuilding of St. Peter's Basilica. He also ignored celibacy as a cardinal, fathering at least one daughter with his long-term mistress, whom he ultimately married off to the chamberlain of a cousin.

    Julius was tainted with another charge late in life, that he consorted with men (even common pro street workers). The 1511 Council of Pisa condemned him as such, even including that he was "covered with shameful ulcers," an allusion to syphilis. History has not rendered a verdict on this assertion; Julius passed of "fever" in 1513.   

  • Julius III Made His Alleged Commoner Boyfriend A Cardinal

    Julius III Made His Alleged Commoner Boyfriend A Cardinal
    Photo: Mathiasrex / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    Giovanni Ciocchi Del Monte (eventually Julius III) was a pope who ruled for five years in the mid-sixteenth century. Perhaps he is most famous today for creating what was described as one of the most notorious homosexual scandals in the history of the papacy. While still a cardinal, Julius became emotionally involved with Innocenzo, a teenaged, illegitimate son of a beggar-woman. After Julius met him in the streets, he was installed in the household of the cardinal's brother, who adopted him and gave him the family name. One of Julius III's first acts as pope was to appoint Innocenzo a cardinal.

    Although church historians have attempted to label this relationship as strictly platonic, at least one ambassador stated emphatically that Innocenzo "shared the pope's bedroom and bed." Innocenzo was so incompetent that the pope had to create a special office for him with zero responsibility. Because of this appointment, Julius was mocked within Rome and throughout the various courts of Europe, with emissaries noting Innocenzo's coarse background and lack of sophistication.

    Upon Julius III's passing in 1555, his paramour's influence waned. He was eventually incarcerated by papal order after separate incidents involving murder and rape. Although he was still officially a cardinal when he passed in 1577, his memorial was private and unattended. He was buried in an unmarked grave in the Del Monte family chapel in Rome.