Child sexual abuse inquiry criticises lack of cooperation from Vatican

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Lead counsel also condemns Holy See’s delay in stripping convicted offenders of clerical status



Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin has told how he saw the ‘darker, sadder’ and ‘nasty’ side of the Church when he worked at the Vatican.

Archbishop Martin, speaking at the annual Trócaire lecture at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth, Co. Kildare, yesterday, revealed that he witnessed ‘careerism and nastiness’ while in the Papal enclave.

‘Working at the Vatican is an unusual experience,’ he said.

Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin revealed that he witnessed ‘careerism and nastiness’ while in the Papal enclave. Pic: John Cogill

‘I met there [the Vatican] some of the most intelligent, committed and enlightened men and women dedicated to the service of the Church.

‘Most of the staff at Justice and Peace [council] were highly qualified laypersons and the Council could draw on expertise from Church experts, lay and clerical, around the world. At the Vatican, I also saw the darker and sadder side of Church life in a culture of careerism and nastiness,’ he said.

 Dr Martin has an uneasy relationship with some of the hierarchy in Ireland and previously withdrew Dublin clerical students from St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.

Martin has spoken out about careerists in the Church and criticised Church homophobia and sexism. Pic: Gareth Chaney/Collins

He has also spoken out about careerists in the Church and criticised Church homophobia and sexism.

The Irish Catholic newspaper previously reported that Dr Martin was increasingly isolated within the Church hierarchy, saying he ‘cuts a lonely figure’.

Last night, he said that while he met some careerists and nasty people in the Vatican, he was also inspired by others in the Holy See who stood up for human rights.

Pope Francis wishing archbishop Diarmuid Martin farewell at Dublin Airport after his two day visit to Ireland. Pic: WMOF18/Maxwell Photography

In his speech, Dr Martin recalled his time in the leadership position in the then Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in 1987, saying that ‘working at the Vatican is an unusual experience’ but he learned that the real role of the Council for Justice and Peace was to support what was being done at local level.

‘This meant not simply being a desk-bound Vatican bureaucrat but going out to see and understand on the ground the challenges of the local churches and the experience and suffering of the local churches,’ he said.

Dr Martin said this was not ‘tourism’ and they never stayed in hotels.

Dr Martin criticised the Vatican’s child protection office last year, less than a week before the Papal vist. Pic: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile

‘Just in case you might think that this was just ecclesiastical tourism, we had a rigid principle of never staying in hotels but always with the local church, in difficult times and even in wartime circumstances but never extending trips beyond the specific mission in hand. There was no tourism,’ he said.

It is not the first time Dr Martin has criticised the Church and the Vatican.

Last year, less than a week before the Papal visit, he criticised the Vatican’s child protection office, saying Pope Francis ‘needs a better team around him’.

It is not the first time he has criticised the Church and the Vatican. Pic: Leah Farrell/

He defended the Pope’s record of dealing with clerical child abuse before the visit but said he was up against the might of the Vatican.

The Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors, set up by the Pope in 2014, was too small and not robust enough, Dr Martin said at the time. He added that the commission was ‘not getting its teeth into where it should be’ and this ‘puts all the pressure back on the Pope’. ‘It puts him almost in an impossible situation,’ he said.

He previously said the Vatican was a complex machine, but that the Pope had to be strong in saying what he wanted and seeing it was implemented.

Dublin archbishop Diarmuid Martin in 2006. Pic:  Niall Carson/PA

He said: ‘Structures in the Church that permit or facilitate abuse must be broken down and broken down forever everywhere.’ In 2011 Archbishop Martin said he agreed with some of then taoiseach Enda Kenny’s comments after he criticised the Vatican in the Dáil for its ‘elitism and narcissism’ over clerical child abuse.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Six One News, he said: ‘What do you do when you’ve got groups, whether in the Vatican or in Ireland, who try to undermine what is being done or simply refuse to understand what has been done? […] I am angry, ashamed and appalled.’

Archbishop Martin also previously said that ‘the place of women in the Church’ had promulgated negative feelings towards the Church in modern Ireland and that the teaching of the Church could sometimes be wrongly used ‘in a homophobic way’.

14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done



Lea Rose Emery

233.3k views14 items

It’s hard out here for a pope. See, when it comes to religious history, the list of Catholic Church transgressions makes for pretty uncomfortable reading. Despite exalting virtue and kindness in its teaching, Church leadership has spearheaded a long history of outright unforgivable Catholic actions.

You might remember some of these improprieties from school – the Inquisition, Joan of Arc, and the trial of Galileo should all ring a bell. But not everything here is medieval. Though Vatican violence goes way back, there are a number of disturbing episodes from recent history. Some of this repugnant behavior comes from Popes, some was Church-endorsed, and some, most unsettlingly, was just straight-up regular Church practice.

Dark Church history contains scandal after scandal rife with every vice and taboo you can imagine. When the Church was at the height of its power (at which point it was the most powerful organization in the Western world), it’s safe to say everything went to its head. Combine that with the fact that Church leaders seem to stubbornly resist adapting to changing morality and you’ve got a whole lot of unforgivable moments on our hands.

Systemically Covering Up Tens Of Thousands Of Cases Involving Sexual Misconduct
Systemically Covering Up Tens ... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 3.0

Remember the time there was a systematic cover up of abuse, molestation, and rape at the hands of priests that went all the way to the top of the Church? A conservative estimate says there were 17,200 victims in the US alone, and this type of mistreatment happened world-wide. When complaints came in, priests and other offenders were transferred, rather than punished. The extent of their actions will probably never be fully understood, because of the decades of cover up.

But the Church isn’t denying it anymore. The archdiocese of Milwaukee acknowledged the severity of the issue and agreed to pay a $21 million settlement to 300 victims. But these types of settlements are few and far between. Luckily, Pope Francis has set up a tribunal to hold the bishops who facilitated the cover up to account. The molestation of children is still happening at the hands of priests, 15 years after the Boston Globe broke the story.

In fact, in August 2018, a grand jury reported that internal documents from six Pennsylvanian dioceses noted that over 300 “predator priests” were “credibly accused” (a seemingly subjective accusation acknowledgement based on the discretion of individual dioceses) of harming more than 1,000 child victims; the alleged violations go as far back as 1947. Due to statute of limitations, only two priests were charged with abusing minors.

In February 2019, however, Pope Francis publicly acknowledged the systemic maltreatment and vowed to combat the problem. He said, “I think that it’s continuing because it’s not like once you realize it that it stops. It continues. And for some time we’ve been working on it.”

The International Union of Superiors General has used the uprising of the #metoo movement to denounce the “culture of silence and secrecy.” With the support of Pope Francis and the pushback from the community of international female superiors, the Catholic church claims to be “working on” overcoming the years of sexual mistreatment by persons in power.

Crusades is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Gustave Doré/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

In 1095, when Pope Urban II made a plea for war with Muslims, armies of Christians in Western Europe took up the charge. The pope promised serfs freedom if they went, galvanizing the masses. In the First Crusade, an army of peasants led by Peter the Hermit was massacred by the Turks. When an army of knights went after them and captured Jerusalem, it was said they massacred Muslims until the streets ran with blood.

This was only the beginning. Waves of the Crusades continued until 1396, marking three centuries of warfare, and incalculable human suffering. Catholics definitely weren’t the only religion involved in this mass violence, but Pope Urban II got the ball rolling. Here’s a nice juicy summary of the sordid catastrophe:

“Taking the heads of slain enemies and impaling them upon pikes appears to have been a favorite pastime among crusaders. Chronicles record a story of a crusader-bishop who referred to the impaled heads of slain Muslims as a joyful spectacle for the people of God. When Muslim cities were captured by Christian crusaders, it was standard operating procedure for all inhabitants, no matter what their age, to be summarily killed. It is not an exaggeration to say that the streets ran red with blood as Christians reveled in church-sanctioned horrors. Jews who took refuge in their synagogues would be burned alive, not unlike the treatment they received in Europe.”

see more on Crusades

Pretty Much Everything Done By Pope Boniface VIII
Pretty Much Everything Done By... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Artaud de Montor/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

When you’re such an evil pope Dante reserves you a spot in the Eight Circle of Hell, you definitely get a place on this list (and are probably laughing in heaven right now at the filthy plebs who deigned write this). It’s amazing to think people of this nature were endorsed by the Catholic Church, let alone elected to lead the organization.

Boniface VIII (1230 -1303) was guilty of many horrible crimes that, sum total, make him seem like a sadistic Roman emperor. Among other things, he oversaw the complete destruction of Palestrina, a city that peacefully surrendered. Palestrina was completely razed, and Boniface ordered a plow driven over it to prove it had been reduced to nothing but earth and rubble.

You know priests take a vow of celibacy, right? Apparently, Boniface VIII didn’t take his too seriously. He once had a three-way with a married woman and her daughter, but was even more well known for saying that having sex with young boys was as natural as rubbing one hand against the other. So, obviously, he was raping (or at least fornicating with), children.

To celebrate his many great accomplishments, Boniface VIII just loved erecting statutes of himself. So add hubris to his list of sins.

Burning Joan Of Arc For Dressing Like A Man
Burning Joan Of Arc For Dressi... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

You may know Joan of Arc as a saint, but the Church didn’t always hold her in such high esteem. In fact, at one time, she was pretty much the Catholic Church’s public enemy number one.

In 1429, 17-year-old Joan of Arc, believing God had spoken to her, instigated an uprising to get the English out of France, but some high-powered Catholics who sympathized with the English weren’t pleased. French king Charles VII wisely accepted Joan’s help in his fight against the English, and together, they won some major battles.

When Joan was captured, Charles VII, unsure of whether he trusted her as an emissary of God, handed her over to the Church, which did what Catholics do best, put her on trial for heresy with no evidence. To make things one step more ridiculous, Joan was denied counsel, which was against Church rules. Despite this, she is famed for remaining cool, calm, and dripping with integrity throughout the trial.

Because there was no evidence of heresy, Joan was found guilty of one of the 70+ other charges brought against her, wearing men’s clothes, for which she was burned at the stake in 1431 in front of a crowd of thousands. The Church was determined to get her, and did.

In 1456, Charles VII ordered an investigation into Joan’s trial. The result? She was declared innocent and made a martyr. The Church followed suit and, in 1920, canonized her. Talk about a change of heart. Maybe since all male Church officials were dresses they pretend are robes, they decided it was okay for Joan to dress a little butch.

Burning William Tyndale For Making A Vernacular Bible For The Masses
Burning William Tyndale For Ma is listed (or ranked) 5 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Foxe’s Martyrs/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

You’d think the Church would make the mass distribution of its core text a main priority. As it turns out, in the 16th century, this was the last thing powerful Catholics wanted.

Scholar William Tyndale, on the other hand, wanted this so badly he went into hiding to translate the Bible into English, so lay people could read it for themselves. The Church was not happy about this, and when copies were smuggled around Europe, Catholic authorities demanded they be burned.

And what of Tyndale? He was captured, tried for heresy for daring translate the bible, and burned at the stake. When Church authorities decided printing Bibles in English was okay, they borrowed a whole lot from Tyndale’s translation. And never apologized.

Slaying Countless Women As Witches Because Pope Innocent VII Was Paranoid
Slaying Countless Women As Wit is listed (or ranked) 6 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Artaud de Montor /Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Catholic Church wasn’t the only group involved in witch hunts, but it kicked things off with Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches), a doozy of a book written in 1487, after Pope Innocent VIII declared, by papal bull, witches were real and a threat (due to their involvement with Satan). He wanted that sh*t investigated stat, so clergymen Johann Sprenger and Heinrich Krämer (using his Latin name, Henricus Institoris) took up the call and literally wrote the book on witches, Satanists (which were invented for this book), and hunts thereof. And boy, was it a success. It was so popular that, for 200 years, it was second only to the Bible on the sales charts.

The problem? Well, for one, the book was hugely sexist and focused almost only on women, promoting burning them at the stake,  a common punishment for heretics. So who knows how many deaths it inspired; its influence was too huge to quantify. The book is also filled with somewhat dubious information, such as the following facts about witches and Satanists: they stop cows from giving milk; they rode through the air on broomsticks on their way to forest orgies; they ate infants.

Absolving Sins For Cash Payments, Including Sins Not Yet Committed
Absolving Sins For Cash Paymen is listed (or ranked) 7 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

If one bit of Catholic Church history got drilled into your mind in high school, there’s a good chance it was the selling of indulgences and Martin Luther’s reformation. Now synonymous with money-grubbing, the idea of an indulgence isn’t so bad in theory. According to Church doctrine,

“[an] indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain defined conditions through the Church’s help when, as a minister of redemption, she dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions won by Christ and the saints.”

A little wordy, but potentially inoffensive.

In the 16th century, however, indulgences got out of hand. Pope Leo X had expensive taste and wasn’t above using shady means to satisfy it. Indulgences were peddled as “pay X to absolve you of Y.” Basically, money gets you into heaven. To give some indication of how crazy things got, Dominican friar John Teztel was named Grand Commissioner of indulgences in Germany (so, overseeing indulgence was his only job), where he sold absolution for future sins. So: “Hey, give us some gold, it’s all good if you kill that dude next week.”

If you were poor and ignorant, as most poor people in the period probably were, you basically just believed you were hopelessly f*cked and did your best to prepare for an eternity spent frolicking in the torments of hell.

So what happened? Martin Luther, none too pleased, wrote his 95 Theses, effectively kick starting the Reformation.

Orchestrating The Fall Of The Knights Templar To Appease A Broke King
Orchestrating The Fall Of The is listed (or ranked) 8 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Unknown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Made famous again by The Da Vinci Code, the Knights Templar, a stateless military fraternity assembled to protect Christian pilgrims to the Holy Land, were the subject of gossip a long time ago. They were endorsed by the Roman Catholic Church in 1129, and were famous valorous service in the Crusades. They were also really good with money, which shouldn’t have been a problem, but King Philip IV of France owed them (and others) a whole lot of it. Philip took advantage of growing fear of the Knight Templar’s power and pressured the Church into dropping the mighty anvil of god down on them.

What the Church did next wasn’t great. In 1307, Pope Clement V had members arrested and tortured, gaining false confessions of heresy. In fact, he got enough such confessions to justify disbanding the order in 1312. Various Knights confessed to spitting on the cross, fraud, and secrecy (which was apparently a crime?), and nobody cared the confessions arose from torture and were recanted afterward. Archbishop of Sens Philippe de Marigny, who ran an investigation into the Knights, had dozens burned at the stake. A fine repayment for all of that fighting in the crusades.

In 2007, a secret document showing Pope Clement V absolved the Knights before later deciding to disband them was published. Historians believe this document provides essential proof that the Church caved under King Phillip’s pressure. Good news for the Knight’s integrity, bad news for the Church’s.

Burning Someone 43 Years After He Passed Because He Upset Some Important Catholics
Burning Someone 43 Years After is listed (or ranked) 9 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Ford Maddox Brown/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

As if having your enemies killed wasn’t enough, Catholics gotta burn the corpses, too. What gives? Trying to outdo what the Romans did to JC?

John Wycliffe (1320 – 1384), famous English theologian and vocal critic of the Church, was a forerunner of the Reformation. Among his many criticisms was a belief the Church should give up its worldly possessions. As you can imagine, not an idea the church was happy to have spread around. Wycliffe also promoted and worked on the first English translation of the Bible, hoping to give people direct access to the word of god. Again, not a fun idea for the Church, which liked its monopoly on power.

William Courtenay, Archbishop of Canterbury, made moves against Wycliffe after retiring (gotta stay busy). Wycliffe’s writings were banned in certain areas, but it didn’t end there. It didn’t even end when Wycliffe died of a stroke in 1384. Instead, in 1415 (31 years after he died), the Council of Constance declared Wycliffe a heretic. Not only did they order his books burned, they ordered his body exhumed and burned. And it took them 12 years to do that. So, 43 years after Wycliffe died, his corpse was torched and his ashes thrown in the River Swift. So much for resting in peace.

Executing Jan Hus For Working Out Some Tricky Theological Philosophy
Executing Jan Hus For Working is listed (or ranked) 10 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Diebold Schilling the Older/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Church tends to be pretty brutal with its critics, of which the treatment of Jan Hus, born 1372, is one of the best (or worst) examples. A Czech priest, Hus felt the Church, run by humans, who are by nature flawed, must necessarily also therefore be flawed, while the Bible, the direct word of God, had no flaws. He was, therefore, openly critical of Church practices, especially the papal schism and indulgence sales.

So, not very happy with Hus, the Church convened the Council of Constance and invited him to join them. Nothing to worry about, just a wee chat. Or so they said.

Instead of having that wee chat, the Council arrested Hus and put him on trial (and then in jail) for, you guessed it, heresy. He was kept in a dungeon and, when he refused to recant his teachings, was sentenced to death. The Church even refused him his last rights before burning him at the stake. And to think they said they just wanted to talk.

The Joust Of Whores Organized By Pope Alexander VI 
The Joust Of Whores Organized is listed (or ranked) 11 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Thomas Gun/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Joust of Whores is just one example of the corrupt and ridiculous popes of yore. In 1501, Pope Alexander VI (a Borgia, if that rings any bells), who was known to have some pretty refined hobbies, like watching horses fornicate, took things way over the top. According to historian Tony Perrottet, he invited 50 women to strip at the pope’s table. Then things got weird.

As Perrotet writes: “Alexander and his family gleefully threw chestnuts on the floor, forcing the women to grovel around their feet like swine; they then offered prizes of fine clothes and jewelry for the man who could fornicate with the most women.”

It’s rumored Alexander VI was killed by his son, Cesar. Just to show how truly f*cked up Alexander was, his body was expelled from the basilica of Saint Peter. Why? He was considered too evil for sacred soil.

The Roman Inquisition, During Which Judaism And Love Magic Were Serious Crimes
The Roman Inquisition, During is listed (or ranked) 12 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Ettore Ferrari/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The level of the Church’s involvement in various inquisitions can be argued. It’s important to remember Pope Innocent IV (ironic name, that) explicitly condoned torture as an Inquisition interrogation technique in his papal bull Ad extirpanda in 1252 (which bull probably deserves its own place on this list). The Spanish Inquisition, most famous of these murder orgies, was carried by Spanish royalty and friars, who were Catholic, but not working directly for, or under direction of, the Vatican.

But wait, kids! Don’t forget the Roman Inquisition, or the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, which was 100% the church’s doing. In 1542, as part of a Counter-Reformation against Protestantism (seriously, didn’t these people have anything better to do than overreact to other Christians who pissed them off?), the Spanish Inquisitions’s gentle cousin, the Roman Inquisition, was born. Galileo and Copernicus were among those questioned. While Church staple heresy was a popular dish during the Inquisition, the menu had a number of options, including blasphemy, Judaism (which is a crime how?), immorality, witchcraft, love magic (yes please), and anything else wrathful Papists could shoe-horn in.

John Bargrave, a  contemporary English writer, described how he was questioned in Latin (rather than Italian) to prevent uneducated guards from understanding what was being said. He was also prevented from carrying books “printed at any heretical city, as Geneva, Amsterdam, Leyden, London, or the like.”

Not as bad as the Spanish Inquisition, sure, but very much related and equally dogmatic, close minded, and power-mongering. A Church specialty. Bonne mort, frères et sœurs.

Imprisoning Galileo In His Home For Years Because He Suggested Science Was Greater Than God
Imprisoning Galileo In His Hom is listed (or ranked) 13 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Cristiano Banti/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

The Church and science have a complicated relationship, to put it nicely. In 1633, Galileo Galilei, the father of, like, all science, was put on trial by the Church for saying the sun is the center of the universe and the earth moves around it, rather than the other way around. Which is, you know, true for the most part (sure, okay, the sun isn’t the center of the universe, but still, he was onto something). But that didn’t matter.

Pope Urban VIII was having none of it, seeing Galileo’s statement as horrific heresy. So, 10 cardinals sat in judgment of Galileo, who was threatened with torture, imprisonment, and even being burned at the stake. Galileo, 69 at the time and in a “pitiable state of bodily indisposition,” eventually renounced his beliefs. Because of this, the church went easy on him and, rather than torture, he was subjected to house arrest until he died. What a way to treat the father of modern of science.

And what does the church have to say on the subject now? “We today know that Galileo was right in adopting the Copernican astronomical theory,” Paul Cardinal Poupard, the head of an investigation into the matter said in 1992. So, only 350 years too late.

Cutting Funding For Immigrants Because Of Their Connection To The LGBTQ+ Community 
Cutting Funding For Immigrants is listed (or ranked) 14 on the list 14 of the Most Absurd and Unforgivable Things the Catholic Church Has Ever Done
Photo: Fibonacci Blue/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

Not all Catholic faux pas come from the past; there’s been some dodgy stuff in modern times, as well (see priest rape bonanza), and the church’s relationship with the LGBTQ+ community continues to be a source of frustration. But here’s a humdinger:

For years, the Church gave thousands of dollars to Compañeros, a nonprofit helping Hispanic immigrants access healthcare, understand laws, and meet other basic needs. That is, until the Church found out Compañeros teamed up with a gay and lesbian rights group, at which point Nicole Mosher, executive director of  Compañeros, was informed their funding was in danger.

Compañeros is but one example of organizations the Church threatens for not falling in line with the most strident dictates of Catholicism. The New York Times explained in 2002, “Since 2010, nine groups from across the country have lost financing from the campaign because of conflicts with Catholic principles.”

On the one hand, of course it’s okay for the Church to withhold money from causes in contradiction with its beliefs. Like, say, an abortion clinic. But cutting off funding to aid the needy simply because of an association with the LGBTQ+ community seems extreme and unfair, especially given Church doctrine on helping the needy and feeding the poor. What’s more, members of the LGBTQ+ community can identify as Catholic and go to church, but can’t be helped by that Church? This is all the more more difficult to swallow when considering the Church’s $1.6 billion stock portfolio.

Eight of the worst popes in church history


April 15, 2018

(CNN)Billed as a reformer and outsider, Pope Francis was elected five years ago.

He took the helm as the Catholic Church wrestled with corruption and the fallout of the child sexual abuse scandal. But this is hardly the first time that the church has been gripped by scandal.
Can you imagine a Pope placing the rotting corpse of his predecessor on trial? Or putting the papacy itself up for sale?
Well, history tells us that popes did all that and more at a time when they apparently played by a very different set of rules.
Here are eight popes you’ll find in the history books for all the wrong reasons:

Pope Alexander VI

BORN AS: Rodrigo Borgia near Valencia, Spain, in 1431.
TIME IN POWER: 1492-1503.
WHAT HE DID: To this day, the Borgia name is synonymous with scandal because of this guy’s rule. (How many other papal families have a Showtime series named after them?)
There was controversy from the start with Pope Alexander VI, a wealthy Spaniard who allegedly bought the papacy by bribing his fellow electors.
Alexander also saw no problem appointing many of his relatives to positions of power, or killing off rival cardinals to claim their valuable property for himself.
And he was apparently quite the ladies’ man, fathering several children with his many mistresses.

Pope Stephen VI

BORN AS: Birth name, date and birthplace unknown.
TIME IN POWER: May 896-August 897.
WHAT HE DID: Pope Stephen VI did not have a chummy relationship with his predecessor, Pope Formosus. And that’s putting it kindly.
When Stephen came to power, Formosus had already been dead for months, but having his enemy six feet under was not enough punishment for the new Pope.
It’s safe to say the verdict didn’t go Formosus’ way, so Stephen commanded his body be dragged through the streets of Rome and dumped in the Tiber River.
Though he won the so-called cadaver trial, Stephen was strangled to death by one of his enemies barely more than a year later.

Pope Boniface VIII

BORN AS: Benedetto Caetani in Rome, circa 1235.
TIME IN POWER: 1294-1303.
WHAT HE DID: With his “my way or the highway” approach to the papacy, Pope Boniface VIII had a knack for starting fights.
Among his many enemies was the writer Dante Alighieri, whose criticism of the church led to his exile from Florence, Italy, at the hands of Boniface’s cronies.
In 1302, Boniface issued a papal bull — the church’s term for an official proclamation — which placed Europe’s kings and their armies under his supreme command.
Many rulers may have called “bull” on this, especially Philip, who ordered Boniface’s capture after he caught wind of the Pope’s plans to excommunicate him.
Boniface died soon after, but not before earning himself a permanent spot in the eighth circle of Hell in Dante’s “Inferno.”

Pope Urban VI

BORN AS: Bartolomeo Prignano in Naples, Italy, circa 1318.
TIME IN POWER: 1378-1389.
WHAT HE DID: When your tenure tears the church in two, consider your spot on the “not a great pope” list secured.
Pope Urban VI’s election in 1378 triggered the Western Schism, also known as the time when there were two, and later, three, competing popes claiming the title of church leader à la “Game of Thrones.” Urban also had no problem using violence to dispatch his enemies.
He called for the brutal killings of cardinals who plotted against him, and legend has it he even griped that their screams weren’t loud enough.

Pope Leo X


BORN AS: Giovanni de’ Medici in Florence, Italy, in 1475.
TIME IN POWER: 1513-1521.
WHAT HE DID: A member of Italy’s powerful Medici family, Pope Leo X had a taste for the finer things in life.
He funded some of the Renaissance’s most famous artwork, but his big spending drove the church’s finances deep into the red.
To help balance the books, he relied heavily on the sale of indulgences — which is forking over money to the church to buy forgiveness for sins or, say, to get a dead relative out of Purgatory.
You might remember from history class that this pay-for-penance scheme angered many, including Martin Luther, whose “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation and tore apart the Catholic Church.
BORN AS: Giovanni de’ Medici in Florence, Italy, in 1475.
TIME IN POWER: 1513-1521.
WHAT HE DID: A member of Italy’s powerful Medici family, Pope Leo X had a taste for the finer things in life.
He funded some of the Renaissance’s most famous artwork, but his big spending drove the church’s finances deep into the red.
To help balance the books, he relied heavily on the sale of indulgences — which is forking over money to the church to buy forgiveness for sins or, say, to get a dead relative out of Purgatory.
You might remember from history class that this pay-for-penance scheme angered many, including Martin Luther, whose “95 Theses” sparked the Protestant Reformation and tore apart the Catholic Church.

Pope John XII

BORN AS: Ottaviano in Rome, circa 937.
TIME IN POWER: 955-964.
WHAT HE DID: He was only about 18 when he became Pope, and history claims that John XII ran the church in a way you’d expect from a hormonal teenager with enormous power.
From most accounts, it sounds like the papal palace under John XII was part-raucous frat party, part-seedy brothel.
Whichever version you believe, John XII was definitely not celibate, and legend has it he died of a stroke doing what he loved … with another man’s wife.

Pope Benedict IX

BORN AS: Theophylactus in Rome, circa 1012.
TIME IN POWER: 1032-1044; April-May 1045; 1047-1048
WHAT HE DID: A “demon from hell’” and “so vile, so foul, so execrable that I shudder to think of it” are just a few of the kind words future saints and other popes have used to describe Pope Benedict IX.
This Pope held the position three different times, and was kind of like a really bad cold that the church couldn’t get rid of.
His first spell as Pope ended with him fleeing Rome after a citizens’ rebellion erupted over his violent behavior.
He then came back into power for a second stint but sold the papacy to his godfather, who became Pope Gregory VI.
But Benedict was still not finished. He returned to Rome years later, reclaimed the throne and then lost it again after German armies finally chased him out of Rome for good.

Pope Sergius III

BORN AS: Sergius in Rome. Birth date is unknown.
TIME IN POWER: 904-911.
WHAT HE DID: As a friend of Pope Stephen VI of “cadaver trial” fame, it should come as little surprise that Sergius III was also not a great Pope.
Sergius came to power at a time when several players laid claim to the title, and after declaring a number of his rivals anti-popes, he had at least one of them killed.
He’s also said by some to be the father of Pope John XI, the product of Sergius’ relationship with a Roman socialite named Marozia.

The Guardian view on ‘pagan idols’ in the Vatican: church culture wars should concern us all

The Guardian

A row over Amazonian ‘Mother Earth’ statues, displayed during a prayer service in the pope’s gardens, is a depressing sign of the times

The Pachamama (Mother Earth) statues in the Vatican gardens

mama (Mother Earth) statues in the Vatican gardens. Photograph: Giulio Origlia/Getty Images

The roots of the word “catholic” go back to the Greek adjective καθολικός, which roughly translates as “universal”. When we are told a person has catholic tastes, we understand them to have broad interests which are not ringfenced by prejudices or secular dogmas. But how catholic should the Catholic church allow itself to be? Somewhat under the secular radar, Pope Francis has become embroiled in another bitter dispute with traditionalists in his church. This time, the objects of dispute were five small and rather beautiful Amazonian fertility figures, which have become known as the Pachamama (Mother Earth) statues. Portraying a naked, pregnant woman, kneeling in apparent contemplation, they appeared this month at a prayer service with the pope in the Vatican gardens, on the eve of the Synod of Bishops for the Amazon. That was too much for militant Catholic conservatives, who complained at this use of “pagan idols”. Replica statues displayed in a Rome church were stolen and dumped in the Tiber.

The Catholic church has a long tradition of incorporating and adapting different forms of belief and practice from around the world. Often described as “inculturation”, at its worst this approach can become a form of religious imperialism. At its best, it means a faithfulness to the church’s core belief that God is present in all human cultures; a belief that the ultimate vocation of humanity “is one”, however diverse its myriad cultures. The Vatican said the statues were an “effigy of maternity and the sacredness of life”.

Pope Francis has apologised on behalf of Rome for the mistreatment of the figurines, which were recovered by police from the Tiber. But the theological conservative, Cardinal Gerhard Müller, defended the vandalism saying: “The great mistake was to bring the idols into the church, not to put them out.” Wilder critics, not for the first time, have labelled the pontiff the “first post-Christian pope”.

The dispute might seem somewhat arcane. But the battles that Pope Francis is being forced to fight in Vatican City are spilling over into the public square. As with the migrant crisis, in which the pope has passionately championed the rights of refugees, they embody a struggle over ethics which is driving the west’s deepening culture wars. The pope is routinely denounced by Catholic conservatives as a “globalist” and religious relativist who wishes to turn the church into a kind of ecclesiastical version of the UN. One prominent American critic used the Pachamama episode to denounce “mindless multiculturalism”.

This theological worldview is informing some of the nastiest, most xenophobic politics in Europe, not least in Italy. It is providing a spiritual rubber-stamp for a new politics of insularity. The alleged need to defend “Christian culture” has become a pretext for a reactionary crusade against migrants, Roma, LGBT citizens and other minorities. Inculturation, practised with care, is a doctrine of humility. It acknowledges that no culture or tradition has unique access to the true and the good, making the case for tolerance and openness to difference. Christians, agnostics and atheists of goodwill should defend this kind of thinking. The “Pachamamas” have not been seen in public since they were fished out of the Tiber. They should be placed back on display soon.