How Pope John XII's Brothel Lifestyle Contradicted His Celibacy Vow

For centuries, as The Conversation notes, men with an interest in certain positions in the Catholic Church have been expected to live lives of celibacy, which is to say, no marriage and certainly no sex. Of course, vows are just words on a page, so to speak, and there is nothing about them that physically prevents the votarist from carrying on as if they'd never made those vows. Certainly millions of people who have taken marriage vows have ignored them, and for decades, the Catholic Church in the United States has been dealing with accusations related to priests whose vows of celibacy reportedly failed.

As Catholic priests, popes are also expected to adhere to vows of celibacy. Of course, not every pope has done that, and at least one pope so thoroughly disregarded his vows that the period in which he served has been referred to as a "pornocracy," according to History of Yesterday, literally a "government by prostitutes."

John XII didn't even pretend

The process by which popes are elected won't be rehashed here, but suffice it to say that it's considerably more above-board than it was in the 10th century. As History of Yesterday notes, in those days, the appointments of popes had more to do with whichever wealthy Italian family wielded the most power at the time, and by 955, that meant that an 18-year-old man named Octavius got the job and took the name John XII.

The teenage pope had little interest in matters of church and considerable interest in gambling, drinking, and sex — sex with prostitutes, sex with married women, sex with unmarried women, possibly even sex with unwilling women who made the mistake of being in Rome at the wrong time. He made no attempt to hide it, either, even turning the Lateran Palace into his own personal brothel, appointing mistresses to high-ranking positions and funding it all with money from Rome's coffers.

By 962, John's indiscretions were starting to get noticed, and he fled town. He managed to fend off an attempt to get him to answer for his crimes — a chapter in history that included brutal retribution against his enemies. However, by 964, his lifestyle caught up to him, and he died under mysterious circumstances.