20 Reasons Why Pope John XII was the Worst Pope in History
20 Reasons Why Pope John XII was the Worst Pope in History

20 Reasons Why Pope John XII was the Worst Pope in History

Tim Flight - April 29, 2019

20 Reasons Why Pope John XII was the Worst Pope in History
Pope Leo VIII, Nuremberg, 1493. Wikimedia Commons

2. As soon as Otto left, John returned to Rome, mutilating his opponents and ousting his replacement, Pope Leo VIII

Instead of taking the more sensible course, John made preparations to return to Rome. Otto left the city shortly after the riot on January 4 964, leaving Pope Leo cowering in the Vatican Palace (presumably now free of prostitutes). John was back in Rome by mid-January, and incredibly, despite his terrible reign as Pope up to that date, the locals decided they liked him better than Otto and Leo. With tumultuous Romans hot on his tail, Leo fled to Otto’s court. John now took vengeance on those who denounced him the previous December, torturing and hacking them to death.

Otto’s reactions hitherto are uncertain, but he can’t have been happy. But what really made his blood boil was a Synod held on February 26 964. Here John excommunicated Pope Leo and, most foolishly, overruled the acts of the Synod that Otto had presided over when he was given the sack and deemed it illegal. Unable to tolerate this fresh attack on his authority by the troublesome priest, Otto marched with his army on Rome, this time no doubt dreaming of having John flayed alive. John took the hint, and went to hide out in Campagna that April.

20 Reasons Why Pope John XII was the Worst Pope in History
The death of John XII by Franco Cesat, Rome, 1861. Wikimedia Commons

1. Thankfully, only a few months later he was fatally injured by another man after being caught in bed with his wife

As well as keeping a low-profile, John tried one last gamble: he sent Otgar, Bishop of Speyer, a member of Otto’s beloved German church, to broker an agreement with the king. But before Otgar managed to catch up with the Holy Roman Emperor, John was dead anyway. All sources agree that he was in bed with a married woman when his 9 years of stupidity and incompetence ended. Death came either in the form of a blow from the woman’s irate husband or simply a stroke: either the hand of a man or the Hand of God, in other words.

One can only imagine what would have happened to John if Otto had got his massive hands on him. Given his strong Catholic faith, it’s unlikely Otto would have had the Pope executed, for he was content to sack John rather than arrested and slain after the Synod of 963. Nonetheless, medieval prisons were notoriously unhygienic, and so perhaps Otto would have chucked him in one and let him contract dysentery. But it’s here our story ends: Pope John went out doing what he loved best, and has proved a headache for defenders of Papal Infallibility ever since.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Dynes, Wayne R., ed. Encyclopedia of Homosexuality. London: St. James, 1990.

Herbermann, Charles George, ed. The Catholic Encyclopedia. London: Caxton, 1907-1922.

Kelly, J.N.D. The Oxford Dictionary of Popes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

Mann, Horace K. The Lives of the Popes in the Early Middle Ages, Forgotten Books, 1910.

McBrien, Richard P. Lives of the Popes: The Pontiffs from St. Peter to John Paul II. San Francisco: Harper, 2000.

Wickham, Chris. Early Medieval Italy: Central Power and Local Society, 400-1000. London: Macmillan, 1981.