Weird History 11 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously  

Phil Gibbons
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Despite the vow of celibacy that is a cornerstone of the Catholic priesthood, throughout history there were many popes that were not celibate. These sexually 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 corruption 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 take celibacy very seriously.    

Pope Alexander VI Fathered Nine Children


Pope Alexander VI Fathered Nin... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 11 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously
Photo:  Cristofano dell'Altissimo/via Wikimedia Commons

Rodrigo Borgia, AKA Pope Alexander VI, brought corruption 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 both murder and incest.

Paul II Died While Having Sex With A Male Page


Paul II Died While Having Sex ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 11 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously
Photo:  Cristofano dell'Altissimo/via Wikimedia Commons

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 death are disputed.  Official accounts have him succumbing to a heart attack after eating an excessive amount of melon. Other accounts, possibly originating with papal enemies, assert that Paul II died while being sodomized by a young male page.  That he thoroughly enjoyed dressing up in elaborate vestments also contributed to rumors of "effeminacy" and homosexuality.    

Pope Julius II "The Sodomite" Was Covered With Shameful Ulcers


Pope Julius II "The Sodomi... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 11 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously
Photo:  Raphael/via Wikimedia Commons

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 Basillica. 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 male prostitutes), and he was condemned by the 1511 Council of Pisa as "this sodomite, covered with shameful ulcers," an allusion to syphilis. History has not rendered a verdict on this assertion; Julius died of "fever" in 1513.   

Julius III Made His Street Urchin Boyfriend A Cardinal


Julius III Made His Street Urc... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 11 Popes Who Didn't Take Celibacy Very Seriously
Photo: Circle of Girolamo Sicciolante/via Wikimedia Commons

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 15-year-old illegitimate street urchin 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 Ciocchi Del Monte 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 death 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 died in 1577, his funeral was private and unattended and he was buried in an unmarked grave in the Del Monte family chapel in Rome.