33Whether or not you’re Catholic, you’ve probably heard of the Pope. He’s that old man who lives in a castle in the world’s smallest country, wears a funny hat, and emerges every once in a while to make goofy assertions — which over a billion people take at least somewhat seriously.

Even the more “liberal” Popes come up with crazy ideas, like suggesting that condoms do not effectively prevent the spread of AIDs.

The current pope (Benedict XVI) was quoted back in 1990 (when he was just a cardinal) as saying that the trial and execution of Galileo was “reasonable and just.” It seems that he’s still suspicious of this whole “earth isn’t the centre of the universe” business.

But these modern Popes have got nothing on the Popes of Yore, especially my new favourite, Pope Innocent VIII.

Fun facts about Pope Innocent VIII:

  • He was an ardent supporter of the Spanish Inquisition.
  • Despite a required vow of celibacy, he fathered numerous children.
  • He arranged a marriage for his son with a noblegirl, in exchange for a fast-track to Cardinalship for Giovanni de’ Medici.
  • He became grotesquely obese and lazy, so much so that people often thought he had died in his chair.
  • He was apparently so afraid of death that he attempted to rejuvinate himself with the blood of three young boys (who died as a result).
  • For the last few days of his life, he fed on the breast milk of a young woman.

There are many, many salacious Popes, but there’s just something so fantastic about a Pope named “Innocent” abetting genocide, violating his vows, engaging in blatant nepotism, living in excess, and resorting to voodoo medical practices in order to stave off death.

I encourage everyone to read about historical Popes and select your own favourite.

Here are some tidbits to get you started:

  • Pope John XII (10th Century) reportedly died when he was murdered by the husband of a woman he was raping.
  • Although now considered an Antipope, John XXIII (15th Century) was a full-Pope during the Western Schism. He was accused of piracy, murder, rape, sodomy and incest.
  • A true competitor for Innocent VIII, Pope Alexander VI (16th Century) had a mistress and multiple children, and was further accused of fathering children with his daughter. With whom his son also had sex with. The incest here is actually hard to keep track of.
Most of this information is widely available online. Google it, Wikipedia it, whatever. I first read much of it in Carl Sagan’s The demon-haunted world. Of course, since we haven’t invented time machines yet, there is no way of knowing just how overstated (or understated!) these accusations are. The truth, as always, is probably somewhere in the middle. Which is still a pretty sordid place to be…