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Poe, a disgruntled ex-Catholic and founder of the Freethinkers of Ventura County - a group of atheists, agnostics and rationalists that promote the separation of church and state - became interested in the sexual behaviour of religious folk of yesteryear when a friend gave her a book called Sex Lives of the Popes by Nigel Cawthorne.
The book, published in England in 1996 and not readily available in North America, documents the conduct of popes throughout the Middle Ages who were murderers, had mistresses, ran whorehouses and generally got up to no good.
One of the most notorious popes from the Middle Ages was Pope Alexander VI, who was head of the Church during the late 1500s. Born Roderigo Borgia (of the wealthy Italian Renaissance Borgia family), Pope Alexander VI was known for his whoring, his many illegitimate kids, his orgies in the Vatican and his habit of deflowering virgin brides immediately after overseeing their marriages. He even had an ongoing sexual relationship with his daughter Lucrezia.
But Alexander wasn't the only naughty pope.
Pope John XII, who ran the show back in AD 955, is described by the Catholic Encyclopedia as "a coarse, immoral man, whose life was such that the Lateran was spoken of as a brothel."
Brothels were big among the popes, it seems. According to Poe, when the papacy was housed in Avignon, France, for a stint through the 14th century, Pope Clement VI decided to bring in some extra coin by opening one. Ever the loyal church servant, he apparently signed the deed naming Lord Jesus Christ as the owner. I suppose the Big Guy's good for credit.
Other notorious popes included Pope Sergius III (904-911) who obtained the papal office by murder and fathered several illegitimate children.
Pope Benedict VIII (1012-1024) bribed his way into the papal office, and Pope Benedict IX (1033-1045) - who was the youngest church leader in history, becoming pope at age 12 - committed adultery and murder flagrantly.
Pope Paul II (1464-1471) was apparently a flaming fag who spent vast sums of church money on Mardi Gras-like parades, spectaculars and banquets. He slept during the day and spent nights adorning himself with priceless jewellery and frolicking with his numerous boyfriends in the sumptuous rooms of the Vatican. Paul also was into voyeurism and bondage, it seems, and liked nothing more than to watch naked men being racked and tortured in the papal dungeons. It was said that during a particularly vigorous session on July 26, 1471, Paul died of a heart attack while being sodomized by one of his favourite boys.
Another poofter, Leo X (1513-1521) was said to have invited guests to lavish banquets with up to 65 courses - banquets, by the way, at which little boys jumped naked out of puddings.
Okay, so they may not have been the poster boys for Catholicism, but you can't say they didn't know how to throw a party.
The Reformation of the 16th century forced the Church to clean up its act. But just to be safe, in 1870 the Pope issued a proclamation of "Papal Infallibility," which basically means that no matter what goes on behind closed doors, Catholics still have to listen to what he says.
Ultimately, says Poe, throughout history and even today, as we're seeing lately in the U.S., the Catholic Church is full of hypocrites. Admittedly, Poe's got it in for Catholics and is happy to sully their reputation. Once a chemical engineer, she now sells promotional products for companies to support her labour of love, the Freethinkers of Ventura County.
"As an ex-Catholic, I like to show people the wrongs in the Catholic Church," explains Poe. "I just think their whole way of teaching morality is immoral. The basis behind Catholicism, and Christianity as well, is that you can do anything wrong, as long as you ask God's forgiveness and then everything is hunky-dory. That's why you have mafia who are strict Catholics - they know if they go out and shoot someone Friday night they can just confess and they're all fine for communion on Sunday morning."
And, for Poe, the Church's attempts to deny the sexuality of their leaders and to impose a celibacy requirement on the priesthood is impractical and hypocritical.
"Human beings are sexual creatures and if you tell them they can't have sex it's going to come out some way or other," she says.
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