Christianity: History of the Pope

The Pope: Spiritual Leader with a Colorful Past

Catholicism, the largest sect of Christianity, follows the teachings of Jesus Christ and is headed by the Pope - the spiritual successor to the Apostle Peter, one of Jesus' Twelve Disciples.  He is ordained to teach, unify, and protect God's people.  Also known as the Roman Pontiff (or bridge builder), the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, explains Catholic doctrine, and serves as a messenger to all members of the Catholic Church.  Currently, Pope Francis, of Argentine descent,  leads the Church and Vatican City, a sovereign nation-state run by the Catholic Church.

A Brief History of the Catholic Popes

According to Matthew 16:13-19, Jesus Christ made his apostle, Peter, the first pope.  "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." This biblical mandate drives the notion that all popes are considered symbolic descendants of Peter.

However, some scholars believe Peter had little involvement with the founding of the Church of Rome because so little is known about his life and death.  However, the myth has been crystalized into fact and has lasted throughout time.  According to scripture, St. Linus was the second pope, although this cannot be verified as reliable.  The third pope was St. Anacletus or Cletus;  his name was controversial, mainly because he was the first Greek Pope.  However, we also know little else about him. 

The fourth pope was St. Clement I.  Some scholars found it unlikely that he could have been ordained by Peter, given the time frame, while others cite Clement as ordained by Peter but declining to be a bishop.  The fifth pope was St. Evaristus, son of a Bethlehem Jew and born of a Hellenic family.  He was said to have divided Rome into seven parishes and assigned priests to each.

Although there isn't much to be said about the first five popes, it is notable to mention that popes share a commonality of being traditionally older Caucasian males.  Pope John XII was one exception; ordained at 18, he was known as an immoral man whose corruption was closely tied to war and politics.  Pope Benedict IX, who took the reign at 20, also shared a similar history.  He held the office more than once before resigning for a large sum.  He was eventually deposed at the Council of Sutri.

Politics vs. Piety

A Catholic pope is responsible for preserving the teachings of the Catholic Church; however, they are still men with their own stories.  Perhaps the most memorable conflict was with Pope Benedict XVI, the German-born Pope who ascended the papacy in 2005.  Before becoming Pope, he'd served as a 14-year-old Hitler Youth in the German army.  Although "enrollment in the Hitler Youth was mandatory for any high school age student." (NY Times, 2005), his experience directly conflicted with his religious views on truth and freedom.

After deserting the army and later re-enrolling in a seminary, Benedict claims that the experience made him even stronger in his faith.  He later credited the time for influencing his efforts toward Catholic-Jewish reconciliation.

Although Pope Benedict XVI was vocal about his unwillingness to join Hitler Youth, many narratives paint Pope Benedict XVI and Hitler as two sides of the same coin.  Was this an example of an individual who made a poor choice that did not represent the views of the Catholic Church but could still be considered pious?  Furthermore, does it show the potential fallibility of a pope?

The Factual History of the Gay Pope

Sexual orientation and homosexuality have been hot topics amongst most religions of the world, and Catholicism is no exception.  For instance, Pope Joan was the first and only transgender Pope. Although the literature is limited, a woman presenting as a man breaking their celibacy vow is exceptionally notable.  Pope John XII also broke his vow of celibacy, hosting gay orgies and mistresses, making him the first bisexual Pope. Benedict IX was another papal leader that removed the veil of chastity to indulge in primarily homosexual relations.  Pope Alexander VI was believed to have fathered multiple illegitimate children and was considered morally bankrupt for the wild orgies he would host. Pope Julius II was charged by the Church in 1511 for committing lewd sexual acts with male prostitutes in addition to his illegitimate children.

Other notable gay popes include Pope Paul II, Pope Sixtus IV, Pope Leo X, Pope Julius III, and countless Cardinals and Archbishops.

Although not all instances have substantial proof, it is interesting that each person in question has an additional charge of immoral and lewd acts.  From overindulgence in extravagance to having children outside of wedlock, the idea that gay people are associated with immorality is heavily supported in Catholic history.

Does Homosexuality Even Matter in Catholicism?  Perhaps not.

Catholicism is based on the Christian Bible, which includes the Old and New Testaments.  However, some question the validity of the New Testament.  This is because, early in Catholic history, Popes allowed scribes to rewrite the New Testament of the Bible, which includes the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Additionally, the four original authors may not have been experts on Jesus Christ.  Matthew may have been one of Jesus' followers, but his writings matched his political background, not his Messiah's.  Mark would have been a teenager when following Jesus; after the Resurrection, he traveled with Peter and Paul and wrote his observations to reflect Peter's interests.  Luke did not personally know Jesus and based his book on interviews with many of Jesus' close followers.  John's testimony is thought to have been written after the others and targets believers that already knew the story of Christ.

Because of these facts, it is hard to know whether these writings are true accounts of Jesus's teachings or personal notes from men who wrote their testimonies however they wanted.  Perhaps, shaped by worldwide societal and cultural trends, they and their predecessors were able to take out homosexuality and make it a heterosexual faith.  This starkly contrasts with the many gay popes and cardinals in its early history.

A Doctrine of Love

Catholicism has thrived for centuries and, as a result, has faced many influences over time.  The Church's views on homosexuality are just one of many political influences that a Pope must provide guidance around, yet based on history, the message to Catholic followers is unclear.

Universal Church believes that religion and sexual preference are separate, regardless of religious doctrine.  Anyone should be allowed to marry, and we are all children of the same universe.  When it's your turn to celebrate love, we welcome you with open arms.