This is a list of sexually active popes, list of Catholic priests who were sexually active before becoming pope, and popes who were legally married. Some candidates were sexually active before their election as pope, and it has sometimes been claimed that other popes were sexually active during their papacies. Since such relationships were sometimes undertaken outside of the bonds of matrimony, and because sometimes the Pope was under a vow of celibacy, the Catholic Church considers these to be grave abuses and causes of scandal.
There have been 265 popes. Since 1585, no pope is known to have been sexually active either before or after election to the Papacy.
There are various classifications for those who were sexually active at some time during their lives. Periods in parentheses refer to the years of their papacies.
For many years of the Church's history, celibacy was considered optional. Based on the customs of the times, it is assumed by many, that most of the Apostles, such as Peter, were married and had families. It is clear from the New Testament (Mk 1:29–31; Mt 8:14–15; Lk 4:38–39; 1 Tim 3:2, 12; Tit 1:6) that at least Peter had been married, and that bishops, presbyters and deacons of the Early Church were often married as well. It is also clear from epigraphy, the testimony of the Church Fathers, synodal legislation, papal decretals and other sources that in the following centuries, a married clergy, in greater or lesser numbers, was a normal feature of the life of the Church. Celibacy was not required for those ordained, but still was a discipline practised in the early Church, particularly by those in the monastic life.
Although, various local Church councils had demanded celibacy of the clergy in a particular area, it was not until the Second Lateran Council (1139) that whole of the Latin (Western) Rite of the Catholic Church decided to accept people for ordination only after they had taken a promise of celibacy. The reasons for the imposition of celibacy in the Latin branch of the Church are not straightforward; there was certainly a strain of thought which regarded celibacy as being a more exalted state than marriage, but there was also the matter of married clergy who may have bequeathed Church property to a spouse or child. Regardless, although it is a long-established tradition, clerical celibacy is a matter of Church discipline, not of doctrine. If it were the latter, then Roman Catholic deacons would not be permitted to be married, nor would those clergy in the Eastern Rite Catholic Churches.
In this context, a celibate is a person who is not married. The discipline of priestly celibacy is not considered one of the infallible and immutable dogmas. Celibacy is not synonymous with sexual abstinence, although it entails sexual abstinence because of the requirement of sexual abstinence outside of marriage.
The Council of Trent held that virginity and celibacy were higher states than marriage, but more recently, popes have affirmed the gift and graces of both married and celibate states. In his Theology of the Body reflections July 7, 1983, Pope John Paul II said, "The gift received by persons who live in marriage is different from the one received by persons who live in virginity and choose continence for the sake of the kingdom of God. All the same, it is a true gift from God, one's own gift, intended for concrete persons. It is specific, that is, suited to their vocation in life. We can therefore say that the Apostle stresses also the action of grace in every person—in one who lives in marriage no less than in one that willingly chooses continence."
Popes who were married
- Saint Peter (Simon Peter), whose mother-in-law is mentioned in the Gospel verses Matthew 8:14–15, Luke 4:38, Mark 1:29–31. According to Clement of Alexandria, Peter was married and had children, and his wife was martyred. In some legends dating from at least the 6th century, Peter's daughter is Saint Petronilla. Clement of Alexandria wrote: "For Peter and Philip begat children; [...] When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, 'Remember the Lord.' Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them."
- Pope St. Hormisdas (514–523) was married and widowed before he took Holy Orders. He was the father of Pope St. Silverius.
- Pope Adrian II (867–872) was married before he took Holy Orders, to a woman called Stephania, and had a daughter. His wife and daughter were still living when he was elected Pope and resided with him in the Lateran Palace. They were murdered by Eleutherius, brother of Anastasius Bibliothecarius, the Church's chief librarian.
- Pope John XVII (1003) was married before his election as Pope and had three sons, who all became priests.
- Pope Clement IV (1265–1268) was married, before taking Holy Orders, and had two daughters, who both entered a convent.
Popes sexually active before receiving Holy Orders
Popes who were, or may have been, sexually active after receiving Holy Orders
- Pope Julius II (1503–1513) had three illegitimate daughters, one of whom was Felice della Rovere (born in 1483, twenty years before his election). The schismatic Council of Pisa, which sought to depose him in 1511, accused him of being a "sodomite covered with shameful ulcers."
- Pope Paul III (1534–1549) who, according to some sources, held off ordination in order to continue his promiscuous lifestyle, fathering four illegitimate children (three sons and one daughter) by his mistress Silvia Ruffini. He broke his relations with her ca. 1513. There is no evidence of sexual activity during his papacy. He made his illegitimate son Pier Luigi Farnese the first Duke of Parma.
Popes sexually active, or accused of being sexually active, during pontificate
- Pope Sergius III (904–911) was accused by his opponents of being the illegitimate father of Pope John XI by Marozia. These accusations are found in Liutprand of Cremona's Antapodosis, as well as the Liber Pontificalis. The accusations are disputed by another early source, the annalist Flodoard (c. 894–966): John XI was brother of Alberic II, the latter being the offspring of Marozia and her husband Alberic I, so John too may have been the son of Marozia and Alberic I. Bertrand Fauvarque emphasizes that the contemporary sources backing up this parenthood are dubious, Liutprand being "prone to exaggeration" while other mentions of this fatherhood appear in satires written by supporters of late Pope Formosus.
- Pope John X (914–928) had romantic affairs with both Theodora and her daughter Marozia, according to Liutprand of Cremona in his Antapodosis: "The first of the popes to be created by a woman and now destroyed by her daughter". (See also Saeculum obscurum)
- Pope John XII (955–963) was accused by his adversaries of adultery and incest. The monk Benedict of Soracte noted in his volume XXXVII that he "liked to have a collection of women". According to Liutprand of Cremona in his Antapodosis, "they testified about his adultery, which they did not see with their own eyes, but nonetheless knew with certainty: he had fornicated with the widow of Rainier, with Stephana his father's concubine, with the widow Anna, and with his own niece, and he made the sacred palace into a whorehouse." According to E. R. Chamberlin, John XII was "a Christian Caligula whose crimes were rendered particularly horrific by the office he held". Some sources report that he was rumoured to have died 8 days after being stricken by paralysis while in the act of adultery, others that he was killed by the jealous husband while in the act of committing adultery. (See also Saeculum obscurum)
- Pope Benedict IX (1032– became pope in 1044, again in 1045 and finally 1047–1048). He was accused by Bishop Benno of Piacenza of "many vile adulteries." Pope Victor III referred in his third book of Dialogues to "his rapes... and other unspeakable acts." His life prompted Saint Peter Damian to write an extended treatise against sex in general, and homosexuality in particular. In his Liber Gomorrhianus, Damian accused Benedict IX of routine sodomy and bestiality and sponsoring orgies. In May 1045, Benedict IX resigned his office to pursue marriage.
- Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503) had a long affair with Vannozza dei Cattanei before his papacy, and by her had his illegitimate children Cesare and Lucrezia. A later mistress, Giulia Farnese, was the sister of Alessandro Farnese, who later became Pope Paul III. Alexander fathered at least seven, and possibly as many as ten illegitimate children.
Popes accused of having male lovers during pontificate
- Pope Paul II (1464–1471) is popularly thought to have died due to indigestion arising from eating melon in excess, though a rumour was spread by his detractors that he died while engaging in sodomy.
- Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) was alleged to have awarded gifts and benefices to court favourites in return for sexual favours. Giovanni Sclafenato was created a cardinal by Sixtus for "ingenuousness, loyalty,...and his other gifts of soul and body", according to the papal epitaph on his tomb.
- Pope Leo X (1513–1521) was allegedly a practising homosexual, according to some modern and contemporary sources (Francesco Guicciardini and Paolo Giovio). He was alleged to have had a particular (albeit one-sided) infatuation for Marcantonio Flaminio.
- Pope Julius III (1550–1555) was alleged to have had a long affair with Innocenzo Ciocchi del Monte. The Venetian ambassador at that time reported that Innocenzo shared the pope's bed.
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