Buona sera, Pope Francis! Or should it be buongiorno at this time of day? Whatever! You should be OK if you stick to being kind to animals, nursing lepers, and all that, like, good, stuff your sainted namesake did. Oh, yeh, and the poverty, chastity and obedience thing: fine if you practise it, not so great if you preach it. We can do without poverty, thank you very much, and as for the other two, no way, Francesco!

Now St Francis of Assisi, like many of Christianity’s most impressively holy devotees, was never actually ordained as a priest. Just in case you, Holy Father, feel you need inspiration from those who were ordained, especially your predecessors on the Throne of St Peter, Heretic TOC thought you might appreciate a little reminder of the “best” of them:

Sergius III (904–911) murdered his predecessor to come to power, defiled his corpse, fathered an illegitimate son to his mistress who was 14 at the time, and then ensured it was his bastard son that would take his pontificate upon his death.

John XII (955-964) was a notorious sex fiend. He had sex with women and men in the papal palace and when visitors refused his attentions he went ahead and raped them anyway. The same hospitality was extended to his two young sisters. He held massive orgies and took particular pleasure in defiling holy sites, such as the tombs of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. He personally castrated one of his subdeacons and then cut the rest of him up. He turned the sacred palace into a brothel, blinded then murdered his confessor, toasted the devil and invoked pagan gods during dice games. He even refused to make the sign of the cross!

Benedict IX (1032-1048) Youngest pope ever, as young as 11 or 12. Like John XII he had sex with and raped men, women, boys, and girls – oh, and animals. He was also a back-stabber (literally) and tended to torture/drown/burn/flay-to-death first and then ask questions later.

John XXIII (1410-1415) Very confusing: this was “antipope” John XXIII, not to be confused with the “good” 20th century Pope John XXIII. As pope, he violated virgins and nuns, lived in adultery with his brother’s wife, engaged in “sodomy”, bought the Papal Office, sold cardinal offices to children of wealthy families, and “openly denied the future life”: Holy Father, that last one’s really pushing it!

Innocent VIII (1484-1492) Not so innocent: had 16 children by various married women. Appointed the brutal Thomas of Torquemada as the Inquisitor General of Spain, and ordered all rulers to deliver up heretics to him (Heretic TOC would not have lasted long!)

Alexander VI (1492-1503) Swindled his way onto the throne. Used his daughter Lucrezia, whom he is said to have had an affair with, to lure a succession of wealthy merchants into “marrying” her.  As soon as a wealthier merchant turned up the pope would declare the marriage invalid and she would become available to the new bidder. Alexander held “bunga bunga” parties Silvio Berlusconi would have envied. One of them, known as the Banquet of Chestnuts, is actually a part of recorded papal history. Fifty prostitutes would bring in baskets of chestnuts and empty them out on the floor. The women’s clothes would then be auctioned off and once they were naked they would crawl around on the floor picking up the chestnuts, their vulvas well exposed for clerical appraisal and selection for fucking – with the pope joining in. According to historian William Manchester, “Servants kept score of each man’s orgasms, for the pope greatly admired virility and measured a man’s machismo by his ejaculative capacity.”

Leo X (1513-1521) Leo was made an archbishop at the age of 8 and a cardinal at 13. He appointed cardinals as young as the age of 7. Really keen on burning heretics.

Paul III (1534-1549) He murdered relatives, including poisoning his mother and niece, to inherit the family fortune. He had two cardinals and a bishop hacked to death with swords when he tired of their theological conversation. Notoriously corrupt, he controlled some 45,000 Roman prostitutes, taking a cut of their earnings: so he was a pimp pope, big time! His most well-known lover was an attractive young lady named Costanza Farnese. She was his daughter!

Julius III (1550-1555) Last but certainly not least in our papal naughtiness stakes. Here Heretic TOC hands over the narrative, somewhat edited, to the Something Awful website account (see below). It’s not what I would have written, but it’s done with admirable brio: “Once he was elected pope, Julius III looted the papal coffers to renovate his mansion in Rome. He hired only the best (including Michelangelo). He was known to have a thing for younger men. Alright, he liked to have sex with kids. Okay, he was infamous for having sex with kids. That mansion of his was decorated with statues and frescoes depicting kids having sex with each other. Julius III didn’t just let slip that he molested kids, he flaunted it. He decorated his house to flaunt it. He didn’t need Martin Bashir to ask him about sleeping with some crippled white kid, Julius III was having Michelangelo chisel sculptures of mouth rape. He was blinging with child porn. Controversial poet and scholar Giovanni Della Casa wrote a poem about Julius III in which Della Casa defended the practice of sodomizing young boys. The poem was known throughout Italy and was written while Julius III was the pope. That’s like the 16th century equivalent of having a top 5 song on the Billboard charts name-dropping you as a child rapist…He had a tendency to appoint hot underage studs to the position of cardinal, but took things to a whole new level when he adopted a 13-year-old beggar called Innocenzo. He raised the kid as a sort of foul-mouthed gay slut who hung out in Rome and was bestowed with the title of cardinal-nephew. Julius slept in the same bed as Innocenzo (another misnamed “innocent”!) and boasted of the boy’s sexual prowess.”

Whew! Hot stuff! Can all this be the gospel truth? Well, the gossip and scandal mongers of times gone by were probably just as given to hype and fabrication today’s tabloid tattlers, and as I have knocked up this story in a hurry from some possibly dodgy websites I am certainly not going to swear by every detail. In broad terms, though, serious historians accept that popes in the Mediaeval and Renaissance eras were hardly as pious at St Francis. Even in more modern times the record is not exactly unblemished: as late as 1858 Pius IX kidnapped a six-year-old Jewish boy, Edgardo Mortara. And successive popes were still castrating choirboys “for the greater glory of God” at that time.  It was not until 1902 that the Vatican issued a decree banning castrati from the Sistine chapel. But recent research indicates that popes have carried on with the practice, employing castrati on the pretext that they had been accidentally castrated, for example by falling from a horse or by an animal bite. This may have gone on until as recently as 1959.

One thing is sure: priestly fondling of acolytes and altar-boys in recent decades ranks very low indeed in the long record of “historic” clerical abuse, even if we look no further than the popes themselves.

Heretic TOC acknowledges various online sources, especially Something Awful, which is really something marvelous, rather along the lines of the BBC’s inspired Horrible Histories series for kids. See The 6 Most Awful Popes for quite a lot more awfulness! Also: List of sexually active popes, Banquet of Chestnuts, Evil Popes, Canterbury Atheists, The Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon, Chapter 66.