Tag Archives: gay popes

Queer Saints 5: Gay Popes & Others

One of the many paradoxes  in the story of the church’s response to same-sex relationships, is that during the rise of direct, active persecution of “sodomites”, in Europe and in the newly establised colonies, the church included in its highest echelons popes, cardinals and senior bishops who are known to have had male lovers, as well as others who may have done, and also some who did not, but tolerated or protected others who did. These are not in any sense to be regarded as “saints”, but they do present evidence that same-sex adventures or interests, were not always a barrier advancement to high church office.

Among the popes, there is little room for doubt about some, for whom the historical record is clear. There’s the notable and embarrassing death of  Paul II (1464 – 1471) for instance.  Sixtus IV (1471-84) appointed one of the young men he favoured as Cardinal archbishop of Parma, in part on account of his “gifts of the spirit and the body“. , Leo X ( 1513-1521). Julius III (1550-1555) was another who was notorious for having appointed a young lover ( Innocenzo Ciocchi Del Monte, aged only 17) as cardinal.
For others, such as  Boniface, Alexander VI (r. 1492-1503),  Benedict IX and John XII (r. 955-964), the evidence is less clear.  Julius II (1503-1513) was widely rumoured to have had many homosexual liaisons, Whether or not they were well-founded, what is beyond doubt, is that he commissioned Michaelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.
Among other early popes who notably tolerated or protected people accused of homosexual practices, we should remember Pope Callistus, who was harshly criticized by Tertullian for his failure to condemn sex between men; Pope Leo IX, who implemented many of St Peter Damian’ s proposals for church reform, but rejected the appeals for harsh penalties against clerical “sodomites”, and also rejected appeals to prevent the consecration as bishop of the promiscuous John (or Jean) of Orleans. Later, Paul III (1534 -49) is said to have protected and bestowed honours on his son, Pier Luigi Farnese, who surrounded himself with male lovers, used Roman police to track down a young man who had spurned his advances, and was accused of raping a bishop and other clerics.
A passage from the glbtq archives is fascinating for the very different picture it paints to that prevailing elsewhere, at a time when the inquisition and secular powers were burning between them thousands of men across Europe and in the New World:
The papacy generally revealed in practice a relatively tolerant attitude to sexual “deviation.” Within the Papal States, penalties against sodomy were enforced less rigorously than in many other territories. By the fifteenth century, Rome had developed a vibrant subculture of men who enjoyed sexual relationships with other men. (The situation of women in Rome is less well documented.)
Thus, throughout the early modern era, men found refuge in Rome from the harsh punishment of sodomy, which was more “routine” in northern Europe and which was also vigorously prosecuted in Spain and Portugal during the Inquisition of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Although popes at least acquiesced in the prosecutions under the Inquisition, the persecution of sodomites probably resulted from local animus and zeal rather than from directives from Rome. Protestant reformers consistently condemned papal toleration of homosexual acts.


Books:

Related posts

Gay Popes: Paul II (r 1464 -1471) and His Embarrassing Death

b. 23 February 1417
r. 30 August 1464
d. 26 July 1471

Martin Duberman’s anthology, “Hidden From History”, includes an essay by James Saslow on “Homosexuality in the Renaissance”. One of Saslow’s key points is that at this time, men who had sex with men were not exclusive – in modern terms, they would more likely be described as “bisexual”. In a passage about how the rich and powerful freely made sexual use of their subordinates, I came across this throwaway reference:
Similar patterns prevailed among the clergy and educated humanists. Charges against Paul II and Julius II centred around their seduction of much younger men; Cellini’s autobiography records a beautiful and talented youth, Luigi Pulci, who made a career out of service to Roman bishops.
Now, I knew about Julius II  – and for that matter, Julius III – but this was the first sexual gossip I have come across concerning Paul II, so I explored further.  This is what I found: it seems he died while being sodomized by  a page boy.
Paul II died, on July 26, 1471 of a stroke, allegedly whilst being sodomized by a page boy. After his death, one of his successors suggested that he should rather have been called Maria Pietissima, “Our Lady of Pity”, because he was inclined to break into tears at times of crisis. Some historians have suggested the nickname was rather due either to Paul propensity to enjoy dressing up in sumptuous ecclesiastical finery, or his likely homosexuality.
Nor was he the only cleric who enjoyed some male company.  Here’s Saslow again:
The intimate living arrangements of the all-male clerical world and the opportunities that educational and religious duties afforded for privacy and empiotional intimacy, while not themselves “causes” of of homosexuality, may have contributed circumstantially to their expression.  Priests in fifteenth century Venice and Stuart Sussex were convicted of sex with young parishioners, unpublished records of church trials in Loreto, Italy, in the 1570’s detail the activities of a choirboy who slept successively with various older monks……
Remember, while Paul II was enjoying his adventures with co-operative pages, elsewhere in Italy and the rest of Europe, “sodomites” were being burned at the stake for their “sin”.Nor was it only Paul’s interest in boys that got my attention.  On his election as pope back 1464, the cardinals tried to rein in papal power (and thus to increase their own), by imposing a range of tight conditions, which:
  • bound the future pope to continue the Turkish war;
  • forbade him to journey outside Rome without the consent of the cardinals;
  • limited the number of cardinals to a maximum of twenty-four,
  • all creations of new cardinals were to be made only with the consent of the College of Cardinals.
  • Upon taking office, Paul II was to convene an ecumenical council within three years.
Alas, for the best laid plans of mice and men……Paul II simply ignored these requirements, declaring  that election “capitulations”, which cardinals had long been in the habit of affirming as rules of conduct for future popes, could affect a new pope only as counsels, not as binding obligations. He then created a whole slew of new cardinals from his own loyalists.
Now, a half a millenium and more later, why does all this sound so familiar?
(Among his achievements, he was friendly to Christian scholars; he restored many ancient monuments; made a magnificent collection of antiquities and works of art; built the Palazzo di St. Marco, now the Palazzo di Venezia; and probably first introduced printing into Rome. Paul embellished the costume of the cardinals, and collected jewels for his own adornment.)
(Links to Amazon, UK)

Related posts:

Gay Popes: Leo X (r. 1513-1521)

b. 11 December 1475
d. 1 December 1521

Accounts about the homosexual liaisons of Julius’s successor, Leo X (Giovanni de’ Medici, 1474-1521; reigned 1513-21), are recorded in a variety of different types of contemporary sources, and they were repeated in historical accounts of the papacy published in the later sixteenth century. Having received an outstanding humanistic education, he was appointed Cardinal in 1492 by Innocent VIII. Beginning in 1508, he served Julius II as papal legate; in that capacity, he arranged for papal troops to invade Florence in order to secure the return of the Medici, who had been exiled from the city in 1497.

Unanimously elected Pope, Leo focused his energies upon the patronage of the arts and sciences. He established Greek colleges in Rome and Florence, promoted the study of Hebrew and Arabic writings, and gave strong support to printing. He funded extensive archaeological excavations, which uncovered the monumental antique statue of the river-god Nile (Vatican Museums) and other significant works, and he ordered the restoration of several important Early Christian churches, including Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome.

To give the city of Rome a more dignified appearance, Leo widened the streets and restored several public squares, including the Piazza del Popolo. In Florence, he commissioned Michelangelo to design a new façade for San Lorenzo (project design, 1516-19; never realized) and to undertake one of his most significant projects–the building and decoration of the New Sacristy of San Lorenzo, including Medici family tombs (1519-34).

Books:
(Links to Amazon, UK)

Related posts:

Benedict IX: The First (Primarily) Gay Pope (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048)

That Benedict IX had sexual relationships with men seems to be beyond reasonable doubt. In his diatribe against “sodomy” among the Catholic clergy (Liber Gomorrhianus), St. Peter Damian described him as “feasting on immorality” and “a demon from hell in the disguise of a priest”. The modern researcher Lynne Yamaguchi Fletcher, in “The First Gay Pope and Other Records”, rightly called Benedict IX (r. 1033-1045; 1047-1048) “the first pope known to be primarily homosexual.” Benedict’s pontificate, which was known for  homosexual orgies in the Lateran Palace, “turned the Vatican into a male brothel” and was so scandalous that he was deposed, not once but twice.

 Benedict IX (1021–ca. 1052) was the son of the count of Tusculum. He imitated John XII in staging licentious orgies. These and other excesses caused such indignation that Benedict was deposed in 1045, but then reinstated, only to be deposed again. He disappeared into such deep obscurity that his actual date of death is unknown.

Matt & Andrej in their Biographies of LGBT people, quote this description (original source not stated):

At the death of John XIX, his brother Alberic decided to keep the papacy in the family by having his young son Theophylactus elected (October, 1032). Theophylactus, a young man probably about twenty years old, was a cleric. That was about his only qualification for the papacy. Unqualified by his youth, his bringing up, his depravity, Benedict IX became one of the very few really disreputable popes. He was known for homosexual orgies, at the Lateran Palace. The story of Benedict’s pontificate is as unsatisfactory as his life. The Romans rose against him probably about 1036 and drove him from the city. Benedict proceeded to Cremona, where he met Emperor Conrad II and received a promise of protection. By imperial influence Benedict returned to Rome, only to be driven out again in 1044.
This time there was a fight, and Benedict’s supporters grimly clung to a foothold in the Trastevere district. Inside the city, John, bishop of Sabina, was set up as Pope Sylvester III, but Benedict was not idle. He had fled for help to his family’s base at Tusculum and within two months his tough Tusculans fought their way into the city, sent Sylvester III back to his diocese of Sabina, and restored Benedict IX.
Once restored, Benedict did not feel at ease on the papal throne. For some reason, in 1045 he decided to abdicate. As Desiderius, the abbot of Monte Cassino (later Pope Victor III), put it, “Devoted to pleasure, he preferred to live like Epicurus rather than like a pope.” Consequently, he handed over the papacy to the worthy archpriest, John Gratian. Benedict did not go empty-handed. Gratian paid a large sum to get rid of this offensive character. The charms of retirement soon wore thin for Benedict, and a short time after his abdication he was once more claiming to be pope. With Sylvester III and Benedict IX fighting Gregory for the control of Rome, things were in a frightful muddle. This was ended by Henry III, who had succeeded his father Conrad II in 1039. Henry came down into Italy, cooperated with Gregory to get rid of the pretensions of Sylvester and Benedict, and then had a council demand and receive Gregory’s abdication. Henry then put in a German pope–Clement II. Benedict made one more comeback. After the death of Clement II, he once again entered Rome and held sway at the Lateran, but only from November 8, 1047 to July 17, 1048. Henry III insisted on his removal and brusquely ordered Boniface, marquis of Tuscany, to expel Benedict.
What happened to Benedict after this is obscure. According to one report, which it may be hoped is true, Benedict retired to the abbey of Grottaferrata, resigned all claim to the papacy, and spent his last years as a penitent. Scandalous as Benedict had been, he carried on the routine business of the papacy. And like the few other bad men who were popes, Benedict taught nothing but the pure doctrine of Christ, though by so doing he condemned and did not excuse his own disordered life.
Related Posts:

Enhanced by Zemanta