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Has There Ever Been a Married Pope? History Reveals the Shocking Truth

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It can be surprising to find that the structures that people of the religious order follow today were not always so strict.


In order to become a Catholic priest, one must take a vow of celibacy before entering the priesthood. Ultimately, this means that a priest—and therefore, a pope—cannot ever get married, but rather must devote himself wholly to God and his relationship with Him. This topic has been debated throughout Christianity, as most Protestant denominations allow preachers to marry (and some also allow women to become ordained ministers). The question, then, on whether or not there has ever been a pope that has been married seems like an easy one to answer.

However, it might be surprising to readers to find that there have been at least four popes who were “legally married before taking Holy Orders,” according to History Extra, the official website for BBC History Magazine, BBC History Revealed and BBC World Histories Magazines.

These popes include “St Hormisdas (514–523), Adrian II (867–872), John XVII (1003) and Clement IV (1265–68)—though Hormisdas was already a widower by the time of his election.” John XVII and Clement IV both had children. John XVII had three sons, while Clement IV had two daughters, all of whom entered the religious order.

Although popes and priests are meant to take a vow of celibacy, there have been numerous circumstances and scandals of promiscuity in the church. Pope Alexander VI, who served from 1492 to 1503, was possibly the most famous for this. It is rumored that he may have fathered as many as ten illegitimate children.

Unfortunately, Pope Adrian II’s story did not have a happy ending. Appointed pope when he was 75-years-old, his wife and daughter lived with him in the Lateran Palace. However, both were abducted from the home and murdered by a man named Eleutherius. He died only five short years later.[1]

He came from a noble Roman family and interestingly enough had turned down the position of pope twice before accepting it. He was known by many for his “charity and amiability.”

While those who enter into a religious order often must make sacrifices, it is intriguing to look back in history in order to see that family dynamics still existed for several popes.


[1] This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). “Adrian s.v. II“. Encyclopædia Britannica1 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 215.