The Cadaver Synod (also called the Cadaver Trial or, in Latin, the Synodus Horrenda) is the name commonly given to the posthumous ecclesiastical trial of Catholic Pope Formosus, held in the Basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome during January of 897. The trial was conducted by Formosus’s successor, Pope Stephen (VI) VII. Stephen accused Formosus of perjury and of having acceded to the papacy illegally. At the end of the trial, Formosus was pronounced guilty and his papacy retroactively declared null. The Cadaver Synod is remembered as one of the most bizarre episodes in the history of the medieval papacy.
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.
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!).
le pape formose et etienne vii by jean-paul laurens
so once there was this pope, and he did some questionable things. then he died, and then another pope was elected, then he died, then another pope was elected, and he was insecure so what he did was exhume the body of the first pope, try his dressed-up corpse for perjury and violation of canonical law, and then throw his body in the tiber.
and you thought the current catholic church had problems.