Pope Benedict XVI and the Long History of Scandal-Plagued Popes

Catholic Pope emeritus Benedict XVI committed “wrongdoing” in the way he handled sexual abuse cases in his German archdiocese before he was pope, according to a church-commissioned investigation released Thursday. The German law firm that conducted the investigation said Benedict’s claims to have no direct knowledge of sexual abuse cases were not credible.

The report amounts to a shocking and harsh condemnation of the retired pope – the first pope to resign his position before death in 600 years.

Though his predecessor was canonized and his successor has generally been popular, Benedict is not the first pope among the nearly 270 in history whose scandals have caused Catholics and the Catholic Church headaches.

The period between late 9th and 10th centuries saw some particularly bad popes, according to historian Eamon Duffy in his book “Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes.” During this “saeculum obscurum” or “dark century,” the papacy became little more than a trophy in a rivalry between greedy noble families, and many of these popes were more interested in these petty feuds than glorifying God or abiding by the vows of the priesthood.

There was Pope Stephen VI, in power from May 896 to August 897. His predecessor was pope for only 15 days before dying, perhaps of gout or perhaps murdered by Stephen VI’s followers. Once installed, Stephen VI put his enemy – another of his predecessors – Pope Formosus, on trial, which was kind of weird considering Formosus had been dead for months. His corpse was dressed in papal vestments and propped up on a throne before being found guilty of perjury and other offenses, mutilated and tossed into a river. The people of Rome thought that was pretty gross, and they soon deposed and murdered Stephen VI.

Then there was Pope Sergius III, pope from 904 to 911, who murdered his predecessors, bribed and threatened bishops and fathered an illegitimate child. Sixteenth century Catholic historian Caesar Baronius called him an “execrable monster” and “worthy of the rope and of fire.”

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Source: The Washington Post