The Popes - Are They Valid?

Mary Ann Collins
(A Former Catholic Nun)

October 2002
Revised January 2006
Revised May 2007

The Roman Catholic Church paints a picture of an orderly chain of succession of popes who followed in the footsteps of the Apostle Peter. If even one of these men was not a valid Pope, then the chain is broken.

What does it take to be a valid Pope? What does the Bible say are the minimum requirements for Church leaders? A Pope is not only the head of the Catholic Church, he is also the Bishop of Rome. Therefore, he must at least meet the Biblical requirements for being a bishop.

The Apostle Paul gave Timothy and Titus instructions regarding the necessary qualifications for bishops. He said,

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; Not given to wine, no striker [not violent], not greedy of filthy lucre [money]; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:1-7, emphasis added)

"For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker [not violent], not given to filthy lucre [money]; But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers." (Titus 1:7-9, emphasis added)

We are going to look at some popes and compare their lives with the Biblical qualifications for being a bishop. In the process, we will learn about some distressing things. However, we should not be surprised. Jesus told us that there would be tares among the wheat. (Matthew 13:24-30) He also warned us that there would be wolves among the sheep. (Matthew 7:15) So did the Apostle Paul. (Acts 20:29-30)

Every church has had its share of tares and wolves. However, the Catholic Church claims to have apostolic succession-an unbroken chain of valid popes that go all the way back to the Apostle Peter. My reason for telling you about these "wolf" popes is to demonstrate that some popes were not even valid bishops, let alone valid popes. And that breaks the "chain" of apostolic succession.

I apologize for putting you through this, but I can't adequately make my point without giving you this information.

Pope Honorius reigned from 625 to 638 A.D. He was condemned as a heretic by the Sixth Ecumenical Council (680-681). He was also condemned as a heretic by Pope Leo II, as well as by every other pope until the eleventh century. [Note 1]

In 769, Pope Stephen IV came to power with the help of an army which conquered the previous Pope. Stephen gave orders for his papal rival to be flogged, have his eyes cut out, have his kneecaps broken, and be imprisoned until he died. Then Pope Stephen sentenced a second man to die a slow, agonizing death. He had pieces of his body cut off every day until he finally died. [Note 2]

Pope Leo V only reigned for one month (July 903). Cardinal Christopher put Leo in prison and became Pope. Then Christopher was put in prison by Cardinal Sergius. Sergius killed Leo and Christopher while they were in prison. He also killed every cardinal who had opposed him. [Note 3]

Pope John XII reigned from 955 to 964. He was a violent man. He was so lustful that people of his day said that he turned the Lateran Palace into a brothel. He drank toasts to the devil. When gambling he invoked pagan gods and goddesses. He was killed by a jealous husband while in the act of committing adultery with the man's wife. [Note 4]

In the tenth century, a wealthy Italian noblewoman named Marozia put nine popes into office in eight years. In order to do that, she also had to get rid of reigning popes. Two of them were strangled, one was suffocated, and four disappeared under mysterious circumstances. One of the popes was Marozia's son; he was fathered by a Pope. [Note 5]

In 1003, Pope Silvester II was murdered by his successor, Pope John XVII. Seven months later, John was poisoned. [Note 6]

Pope Benedict VIII reigned from 1012 to 1024. He bought the papacy with bribery. He kept a private force of “pope’s men” who were known for torture, maiming, and murder. When Benedict VIII died, his brother seized power and became Pope John XIX. He had himself ordained a priest, consecrated as a bishop, and crowned as pope, all in the same day. John died under suspicious circumstances. [Note 7]

In 1095, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade to take Jerusalem (the “holy land”) back from the Muslims. This was a “holy war.” The Pope said that Crusaders would have full remission of their sins, and if they died in battle they would be martyrs. As the Crusaders went through Europe on their way to Jerusalem, they slaughtered European Jews. When they reached Jerusalem, they were brutal in their conquest of the city. Many Muslims were beheaded, but some were tortured and then burned to death. This began a conflict between Islam and the West that is still going on today. Later popes called for other Crusades. At first they targetted Muslims, but the Fourth Crusade (in 1198) was against Orthodox Christians in Constantinople. [Note 8]

Pope Benedict IX reigned from 1032 to 1044, in 1045, and from 1047 to 1048. He became Pope through bribery. He squandered the wealth of the Papacy on prostitutes and lavish banquets, and he had people murdered. The citizens of Rome hated Benedict so much that, on two occasions, he had to flee from Rome. Benedict sold the papacy to Pope Gregory VI. As part of the deal, he continued to live in the Lateran Palace, with a generous income. Benedict filled the Lateran Palace with prostitutes. [Note 9]

In 1298, Pope Boniface VIII ordered that every man, woman, child, and animal in the Italian town of Palestrina be slaughtered. He was known for torture, massacre, and ferocity. [Note 10]

Pope Clement VI reigned from 1342 to 1352. He ordered the slaughter of an entire Italian town. He lived a life of luxury and extravagance. He openly admitted that he sold church offices and he used threats and bribery to gain power. Clement purchased a French palace, which became famous for its prostitutes. [Note 11]

Pope Alexander VI (the Borgia Pope) reigned from 1492 to 1503. He was known for murder, bribery, and selling positions of authority in the Catholic Church. He enjoyed luxurious living. The art book “Treasures of the Vatican” shows a portrait of him wearing gold vestments that are covered with jewels. They look like pearls, emeralds, large rubies, and other jewels. His tiara (the papal crown) is gold, with three rows of large jewels on it. Alexander had four children by mistresses. His son Cesare was known for the kinds of murderous intrigues that make good opera plots. According to “The Oxford Dictionary of Popes,” Cesare and Alexander killed people and seized their property. Pope Alexander was so hated that when he died, the priests who came to say prayers for him were driven away by the palace guards, and his body was left unattended. [Note 12]

Pope Julius II reigned from 1503 to 1513. He became Pope through bribery. He was ruthless and violent. He had a reputation for lust, drunkenness, rages, deception, and nepotism. [Note 13]

Pope Leo X reigned from 1513 to 1521. He mixed paganism with Christianity. He had performances of Christ’s crucifixion and ancient mythology. He filled Rome with splendid Church processions and statues of Greek gods and goddesses. He put a statue of himself in Rome’s Capitol, to be saluted by the public. [Note 14]

Pope Gregory VII reigned from 1073 to 1085. He required kings and emperors to kiss his foot. Gregory and his successors used forged documents in order to expand the power of the papacy. Some Roman Catholics tried to expose these forgeries but they were excommunicated for it. However, the Orthodox Church kept records and wrote detailed information about the forgeries. [Note 15] (For more information about this, see my article "Forged Documents and Papal Power".)

Simony was rampant among clerics. It was commonplace for priests to pay money in order to become bishops and abbots. Pope Gregory VII said that he knew of more than 40 men who became Pope by means of bribery. [Note 16]

Pope Innocent III reigned from 1198 to 1216. He said that the Pope is the ruler of the world and the father of princes and kings. He claimed that every priest and bishop must obey the Pope even if the Pope commands something evil. Pope Innocent wanted to get rid of the Albigensian heretics who lived in France. He forced the King of France to kill hundreds of thousands of French citizens. The Albigensians lived mingled among the French Catholics. Pope Innocent commanded that every person in the region, including the Catholics, be killed. This was called the Albigensian Crusade, or the Albigensian Massacre. The Pope gave the Albigensian Crusaders a special indulgence which was supposed to guarantee that if they died in battle then their sins would be remitted and they would go to Heaven. [Note 17]

Would you want any of these men to be your pastor?

Sometimes two or more men would claim to be Pope at the same time. All of these claimants to the papacy had followers. Eventually one contender would be declared to be Pope, and the other would be declared to be an antipope. For centuries, Roman Catholic books differed as to which men they considered to be the genuine popes. However, today there is much more agreement about which men were popes and which men were antipopes. According to the "Catholic Encyclopedia," there were thirty antipopes. [Note 18]

None of these men met the biblical requirements for being a bishop, let alone a Pope. Therefore, they were not valid popes. There are so many breaks in the chain of apostolic succession that it is not a chain at all.

There is one Biblical qualification for being a bishop which most popes have not met since the first few centuries of the church. The Apostle Paul said,

"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife..." (1 Timothy 3:1, emphasis added)

"One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)" (1 Timothy 3:4-5, emphasis added)

Even deacons were required to be married men whose home lives demonstrated their ability to rule the Church.

"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." (1 Timothy 3:12)

Pope Gregory VII wanted to increase the power of the papacy. For reasons of politics and power, he abolished clerical marriage. In 1074 he passed laws requiring that priests be celibate, and he got rid of married priests. [Note 19]

As a result, since 1074 no Pope has been able to meet the Apostle Paul's requirement for bishops.

Now I realize that some individuals (such as the Apostle Paul) are called to be celibate. I could understand a few exceptions to the rule. But for nearly a thousand years, not one Pope or cardinal or bishop has ever been able to meet Paul's qualifications for being a bishop.

While I was reviewing this chapter about the popes, someone played a classical CD that includes Schubert’s “Ave Maria.” This is a beautiful song--full of beauty, purity, and peace. The contrast between that music and what I was reading suddenly hit me. The popes called themselves the “Vicars of Christ,” men who claimed to represent Jesus Christ and speak on His behalf. When people looked at those popes, how could they understand what Jesus was really like? No wonder they turned to Mary. She was pure, and humble, and gentle. And safe. She wouldn’t hurt anybody. And my heart broke for those people, who turned to Mary, because they didn’t know the love and faithfulness and goodness of Jesus, who came to give us life, and joy, and peace.

Lord Acton was a nineteenth century historian. He said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The popes that I described demonstrate that principle. The problem is our fallen human nature. None of us really knows how we would behave if we suddenly had tremendous wealth and power. We all need to follow the example of David, who prayed,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)


Asbridge, Thomas, “The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam,” New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Chamberlin, Russell, “The Bad Popes,” Phoenix Mill, England: Sutton Publishing Limited, 2003.

Chazan, Robert, “European Jewry and the First Crusade,” Berkeley, California: University of California Press, 1996.

De Rosa, Peter, “Vicars of Christ: The Dark Side of the Papacy,” Dublin, Ireland: Poolbeg Press, 1988, 2000. The author used to be a priest. He is still a practicing Catholic. While he was a priest, he did research in the Vatican archives.

“Fox’s Book of Martyrs: A History of the Lives, Sufferings, and Deaths of the Early Christian and Protestant Martyrs,” Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 1967. This book was originally written by John Fox (also spelled Foxe), who died in 1587. After Fox’s death, other men added accounts of later martyrs. This edition of the book ends with a martydom in 1824. It has the name Miles J. Stanford on the cover, so evidently Stanford wrote some accounts of more recent martyrs. You can read the book online.





Hillenbrand, Carole, “The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives,” New York: Routledge Publishing, 2000.

Johnson, Paul, “A History of Christianity,” New York: Touchstone, Simon & Schuster, 1995. The author is a Catholic.

Kelly, J.N.D., “The Oxford Dictionary of Popes,” New York, Oxford University Press, 1996.

Küng, Hans, “The Catholic Church: A Short History” (translated by John Bowden), New York: Modern Library, 2001, 2003. The author is a Catholic theologian.

Martin, Malachi, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1981. The author was a Catholic priest.

McBrien, Richard P.,” Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II,” San Francisco, California: Harper, 2000. The author is a Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame.

Phillips, Jonathan, “The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople,” New York: Viking Press (The Penguin Group), 2004.

Rendina, Claudio, “The Popes: Histories and Secrets,” Santa Ana, California: Seven Locks Press, 2002.

Riley-Smith, Jonathan, “The Crusades: A History” (second edition), New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2005.

Webster, William, “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History,” Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1995. The author is a former Catholic.

Wylie, J.A., “The History of Protestantism,” Rapidan, VA: Hartland Publications, 2002. “The History of Protestantism” was first published in 1878. Since this work is large, it is presented in segments of books. Earlier editions had 24 books in 3 volumes. The 2002 edition has 24 books in 4 volumes, with page numbers in sequence as if it was one long work. (For example, Volume II begins with page 499.) You can buy the 2002 edition online at the publisher’s website, http://www.hartlandpublications.com.

You can read the older, 3-volume work online.



You can download PDF files of all 3 volumes.


You can download a PDF file with the first 12 books.



I encourage you to link to this article. You have permission to quote from this article, as long as you do it fairly and accurately. You have permission to make copies of this article for friends and for use in classes.


1. William Webster, “The Church of Rome at the Bar of History,” pages 63-71. Peter de Rosa, “Vicars of Christ,” 208-209. (De Rosa is a practicing Catholic and a former Catholic priest. While he was a priest, he did research in the Vatican Archives.) Hans Küng, “The Catholic Church: A Short History,” page 60. (Küng is a Catholic theologian.) Claudio Rendina, “The Popes: Histories and Secrets,” pages 112-114. J.N.D. Kelly, “The Oxford Dictionary of Popes,” pages 70-71. Richard P. McBrien, “Lives of the Popes,” pages 101-103.

2. Claudio Rendina, pages 153-157. Richard P. McBrien, pages 124-125. Malachi Martin, “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Church,” pages 85-89. (Martin was a Catholic priest.)

There is some confusion as to whether this Pope was Stephen III or Stephen IV. This is because an earlier Stephen (who would have been Stephen II) was elected Pope but he died before he was consecrated. (Richard P. McBrien, page 121.)

3. Richard P. McBrien, pages 150-151, 435. Malachi Martin, page 123. Claudio Rendina, pages 215-217. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 118-120. (Martin and Kelly tell about the murders.)

4. Russell Chamberlin, “The Bad Popes,” pages 40-61. Peter de Rosa, pages 211-215. Hans Küng, page 79. Richard P. McBrien, pages 157-159, 435. Claudio Rendina, pages 226-229. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 126-127.

5. Russell Chamberlin, pages 25-39. Malachi Martin, page 119. Hans Küng, page 79. Richard P. McBrien, pages 153 (under “John X”), 154-155 (under “John XI”).

6. Malachi Martin, page 131. Claudio Rendina, pages 243-247. (Martin tells about the murders.)

7. Malachi Martin, pages 130-132. Claudio Rendina, pages 248-251. Richard P. McBrien, pages 168-170. (Martin gives detailed information about Benedict’s cruelty.)

8. Jonathan Riley-Smith, “The Crusades: A History.” Thomas Asbridge, “The First Crusade: A New History: The Roots of Conflict Between Christianity and Islam.” Jonathan Phillips, “The Fourth Crusade and the Sack of Constantinople.” Robert Chazan, “European Jewry and the First Crusade.” Carole Hillenbrand, “The Crusades: Islamic Perspectives.”

9. Russell Chamberlin, pages 62-76. Malachi Martin, page 132. Peter de Rosa, pages 54-56. Claudio Rendina, pages 251-254. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 142-144. Richard P. McBrien, pages 170-172.

10. Russell Chamberlin, pages 77-126. Malachi Martin, page 171-176. Claudio Rendina, pages 376-379. Paul Johnson, “A History of Christianity,” pages 191, 218-219. Richard P. McBrien, pages 229, 232, 435. (Chamberlin, Martin and Rendina tell about the destruction of Palestrina.)

11. Peter de Rosa, pages 84-88. Richard P. McBrien, pages 240-242. Claudio Rendina, pages 376-379. (De Rosa tells about destroying a village.)

12. Peter de Rosa, pages 103-110. Richard P. McBrien, pages 267-269, 437. Russell Chamberlin, pages 161-208. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 252-254. Hans Küng, pages 119-120. Claudio Rendina, pages 431-436. Paul Johnson, pages 280, 363. (McBrien, Kelly and de Rosa tell how Pope Alexander VI and his son Cesare murdered people and seized their property.)

In the Vatican, there is a portrait of Pope Alexander VI wearing gold vestments that are covered with jewels. There is a large, full-color picture in Albert Skira, “Treasures of the Vatican,” page 86. There is a smaller full-color picture in the National Geographic book, “Inside the Vatican,” page 49. (Although it is smaller, you can still see the gold and jewels.) There is also a small black-and-white picture in Richard P. McBrien, “Lives of the Popes.” (Following page 392 there is a series of numbered pictures. The portrait of Alexander VI is Picture 10.)

13. Peter de Rosa, pages 111-113. Paul Johnson, page 280. Claudio Rendina, pages 438-441. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 255-256. Richard P. McBrien, pages 270-272.

14. Russell Chamberlin, pages 209-252. Malachi Martin, pages 202-203. Claudio Rendina, pages 441-446. J.N.D. Kelly, pages 256-258.

15. Paul Johnson, pages 194-198, 161. Peter de Rosa, pages 57-66. Hans Küng, pages 85-92.

A scholarly article about this is online. William Webster, “Forgeries and the Papacy: The Historical Influence and Use of Forgeries in Promotion of the Doctrine of the Papacy.” The author is a former Catholic.

16. Malachi Martin, pages 141-142. Claudio Rendina, pages 309-316. (Page 314 gives information about his persecution of the Albigensians and other “heretics.”)

17. “Fox’s Book of Martyrs,” pages 45-47. J.A. Wylie, “The History of Protestantism,” book 1, pages 39-45. Paul Johnson, pages 199-201, 252. Peter de Rosa, pages 66-74, 152-155. Hans Küng, pages 87-103.

18. Richard P. McBrien, pages 466-468. “Antipope,” “The Catholic Encyclopedia,” Volume I, 1907. (You can read this online if you search for “The Catholic Encyclopedia” + antipope.)

19. Malachi Martin, pages 141-142. Peter de Rosa, pages 406-407 and 420-421. Hans Kung, pages 92-93.