is it true that there were evil popes?
Yes, there absolutely were. There are even some great books about it like E.R. Chamberlin’s classic The Bad Popes. There’s even an era of Papal history called the “Pornocracy” and the Saeculum Obscurum (basically “the dark age”) where things got REALLY bad. Like super rapey and murdery.
Some of the worst include Pope Stephen VII, who had the corpse of his predecessor Pope Formosus exhumed and placed on trial in the “Cadaver Synod”. Pope Sergius III was described by contemporaries as “the slave of every vice and the most wicked of men.”
Pope Benedict IX was the nephew of two of his predecessors and “elected” to the Papacy when he was 20 years old. Benedict IX was actually Pope on three different occasions – at the end of his first reign, he was chased out of town by his enemies; he literally sold the Papacy the second time, for 680 kilograms of gold, to his godfather (who became Pope Gregory VI); and, after taking back the Papacy a few years later, he was eventually chased out of the job for good and excommunicated. Pope Victor III said that Benedict IX’s life was “so vile, so foul, so execrable that I shudder to think of it” and charged him with “rapes, murders, and other unspeakable acts” including bestiality. Pope Stephen VIII (sometimes listed as Stephen IX) was Benedict IX’s uncle and pissed off Benedict’s father (his own brother), a powerful warlord in Tusculum, so Pope Stephen had his eyes, lips, hands, and tongue removed – and survived.
And we don’t even know the full story about some of those Popes – “Saeculum Obscurum” had a double meaning. Pope John XI was probably Pope Sergius III’s illegitimate son with a 15-year-old girl. Most of the Popes of this era reigned for a very short time and met very violent ends, so their temporary reigns (and the dizzying naming customs of the time) make the complete history almost impossible to trace. But those are just a handful of the “Bad Popes”. There have been many more, and their stories are actually pretty frightening (and really interesting!).