The 10th century was the Dark Age for the papacy. John XII was born Octavianus in 937. He was the only son to his father Duke Alberic II who overthrew his mother Marozia, and took control in Rome. His mother was either Alberic’s wife, Aldan of Vienne, or a concubine.
Alberic, before his death in 954, made Roman nobles to swear at St. Peter’s altar that they would make his son, Octavianus, the pope at the first vacancy. The leaders loved the dying Duke, so they kept their word and elected Octavianus as the 130th Roman Catholic Pope succeeding Pope Agapetus II after the pope’s death in November 8, 955. He was 18 years old at the time.
Pope John XII
The name John XII was adopted by Octavianus in relation to the apostolic John. He was the third pope to take a regnal name upon elevation to the papal chair: the first being Pope John II (533-535), who at birth was Mercurius and the second was, Pope John III (561-574), who at birth was Catelinus.
The new pope from inception while addressing secular issues went by the name Octavianus and matters relating to the church, he issued papal bulls and other materials under pontifical name of John XII.
John proceeded to live a life so debauched it shocked all Romans. He held massive orgies, sleeping with both sexes, in the papal palace as well as on holy sites.
It was evident he took pleasure in defiling the tombs of St. Peter and St. Paul. The papal palace was same as a whorehouse as John’s lovers, willing and unwilling, were paraded through. He stole money from pilgrims to finance his gambling and provide gifts to his many lovers. When his so many sex escapades got boring, he went for violence.
A list of crimes John was accused of was included in the Patrologia Latina, which it would be assumed is some ancient text for absolute bastard popes.
Some charges against John
- Ordaining a 10 year old as bishop.
- Having sex with his niece (without much consideration to the fact he slept with his sisters).
- Turning the sacred place into a brothel.
- Castrating and then murdering a cardinal.
- Blinding and then murdering his confessor.
- Toasting to the devil and invoking pagan gods during dice games.
- Refusing to make the sign of the cross, this is unbecoming for a pope.
His scheme with Otto I
Berengar, the king of Italy was plotting to take over a portion of the Papal States. To hinder this plot, John turned to Otto of Saxony with a promise of crowning him as a Holy Roman Emperor.
Before his coronation, Otto took his time to suggest to John to lapse from his attitude of killing, raping, and sleeping with anyone deemed fit.
No sooner had Otto left Rome on February 14, 962 that John realized what a mistake he had made by giving up some of the authorities to Otto. He didn’t heed Otto’s advice and began to fear the power he himself had given the new emperor. He sent embassies to Barengar, hoping for a synergy against Otto should the relationship go against plan.
Eventually as anticipated, the relationship soured as Otto captured John’s ambassadors and found out the plans.
John gathered all the papal treasure and fled to exile.
Otto then gathered the leaders of church into a synod which met on November 6, 963. The charges that were listed above are the charges pushed against him.
The council of bishops comprised 50 Italian and German bishops who summoned John to defend himself against the charges. John refused to appear, instead he wrote in his way, saying;
“To all the bishops – we hear that you wish to make another pope. If you do I will excommunicate you by Almighty God and you have no power to ordain no one or celebrate mass.”
This did not hinder the synod from the hearings. The emperor himself testified against John. And with the consent of the emperor, the synod removed John from office on December 4, 963. They chose a layman named Leo. The election of Leo VIII was improper by all existing standards. Leo ruled until the following year.
Once Otto was gone, John came storming back and had all the bishops who supported the new pope tortured. One got his tongue pulled out along with his nose and his fingers chopped off. One was scourged, and another had his hand cut off. John recaptured the city and ousted the puppet Pope Leo VIII and reclaimed his title.
It was rumoured that before Otto could come back from Germany to deal with John, a jealous husband had made it easier for him. John was in bed with another man’s wife, and he came home and found them together. The man beat John to stupor, which he died 2 days after the encounter. Other reports said he had stroke while engaging in sexual act.
John XII was succeeded by Pope Benedict V, but after a month and a day, Leo VIII came back for a second run at the Vatican, ousting Benedict. After the first two months of uninterrupted reign, Leo’s second papacy lasted until his death on March 1, 965.