Top 10 controversial popes in history

Updated on 7 Sep, 2017 at 3:13 pm

The title of the pope is given to the Bishop of Rome and that person is the head of the Catholic Church all around the world. The papal throne has always been a throne of power for people all around the world and especially Christians. The papal institution has been an important part of world history and its influences on western culture is regarded as very important as they have also been an important part of western politics. Although the papal figures are attached to peace, interreligious tolerance and interaction and also human rights, there has also been a great amount of controversy surrounding these figures from time to time. History has had many controversies surrounding the popes and now we will look at the top 10 controversial popes.


10. Pope Serguis III:

Serguis III came to the papal seat at a time when there was mass violence and disorder in Italy. He is notorious because of the fact that he ordered the murder of his two immediate predecessors and is one of the few popes to have done that. Besides that his political involvements with powerful counts and countesses was also often scorned upon. This Pope was also father to an illegitimate son who later went on to become Pope John XI.

Top 10 controversial popes in history: Pope Sergius III

(img source:

9. Pope Clement VII:

Clement VII was on the papal seat from 1523-1534 and was a man who had his foot well planted in the political and diplomatic games. He had to face troubled times and could not keep up with the changes that were taking place in his time on the papal throne. The invasion of Italy by Emperor Charles V happened mostly because of his misdoings in the political arena and in 1527 Rome was sacked post the invasion which is one of the worst moments in the history of the papal organization.

Top 10 controversial popes in history: Pope Clement VII

(img source:

8. Pope Nicholas III:

Being in a position of power is always a great thing but things went from great to cheap during the reign of Nicholas III. He was pope for only three years although he had served under as many as eight previous popes and in the time of his occupancy of the seat he was known to have distributed papal wealth among his family which included giving them land and power. Although he also did many wonderful things for the papacy in his short reign his misgivings place him in Dante’s eight circle of Hell according to many.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Nicholas 3

(img source:

7. Pope Pius XII:

Pius XII was pope for almost twenty years from 1939 to 1958 and the controversy surrounding his actions are still a topic of debate among church scholars and historians. His silence during the Holocaust in Germany has often been scorned at by many. But the church has maintained that he was an active part of the saving of the Jews from the Nazis.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Pius XII

(img source:

6. Pope John XII:

John XII is known as an immoral and coarse man in writings. He served at the helm of the Vatican from 937 AD to 964 AD. Accounts say that he was often involved in raping women and had also given patronage to a brothel. Besides that he was also known to have pagan interests which are considered as a great blasphemy.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope John XII

(img source:

5. Pope Leo X:

Leo X was known to be a man of affluence. During his stay on the papal seat he tried to bring Rome up as a cultural center by endorsing many expensive projects into the areas of the arts. In two years, his affluence almost drained the papal treasury and he was also to part with his own fortunes. He was also selling off Vatican furniture and other property in a bid to restore the roman cultural glory.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Leo X

(img source:

4. Pope Alexander VI:

Alexander VI was a corrupt and cruel pope. He was known to have his way when he was on the papal seat. His appointment of some of his family members to important positions in the papacy was often scorned at. Besides that he was also known to have more than one illegitimate affair and children from those affairs. He was on the seat from 1492 to 1503 AD.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Alexander VI

(img source:

3. Pope Urban VI:

Urban VI reigned from 1378 to 1389 and was known to be a man with lots of rage. He unleashed a wave of violence upon cardinals who had attempted to remove him from the papacy after his outbursts of rage became frequent post his election as the Pope. Besides that he was also known to have tortured some cardinals and during this process had also been quoted saying that the screaming wasn’t loud enough when they were being tortured. He is one of the most notorious people to have sat on the papal seat and was also considered by many as an insane man.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Urban VI

(img source:

2. Pope Benedict IX:

Benedict IX was pope thrice in the 11th century. He is often known as the man who sold the papacy itself. He gave up his first reign in exchange for a substantial amount of money and even during his later return a lot of money was involved. He was known to be a man with peculiar and sick interests at times and he was also known to get involved in acts of homosexuality and bestiality. Even after his final reign he tried to take Rome in his hand repeatedly.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Benedict IX

(img source:

1. Pope Stephen VI:

Stephen VI will forever be known as the instigator and the perpetrator of one of the worst trials in the history of humanity. He ordered the trial of his predecessor who was dead for more than 9 months as he was dug up from his resting place and tried in court. In what is known as one of the most heinous acts that the papacy has ever come up with Pope Stephen VI wanted defamation of his dead predecessor in a way that nobody has seen before or after him. He was pope from 896 AD to 897AD.

Top 10 controversial Popes in history: Pope Stephen VI

(img source: