Is there something like "bad" or "good" popes"?

What is the meaning when a pope is qualified "good" or "bad", with the historical perspective. For instance, some popes have bad reputation in the history books. Did they fail to their duties? What were their duties? Have you got some examples of popes who failed to them in the history?

At the opposite, can some popes being considered as very exemplary?

  • 2
    Canonized popes like Pope St. Pius V or Pope St. Pius X are considered exemplary, since the Church canonizes saints so others can imitate their exemplary lives.
    – Geremia
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 18:15
  • Can you develop? I would like to know how they are exemplary, and how a pope could be considered as non-exemplary, with some examples, if possible. Thank you!
    – Quidam
    Commented May 13, 2017 at 18:18
  • Canonization recognizes exemplary holiness of life, which is not exactly the same as how well someone performs the office of Pope. It is possible that a moderately good man might perform the duties of the papacy extraordinarily well, where as an extremely holy man might perform his papal duties at an average level. For example, some people objected to the canonization of Pope John Paul II because they felt like he didn't adequately handle the clerical sex abuse crisis. However, if the problem was his management skills rather than his holiness, that does not disqualify him from being a saint. Commented May 16, 2017 at 18:29
  • Greg, you should turn it as an answer, it's interesting.
    – Quidam
    Commented May 17, 2017 at 10:02

1 Answer 1


The Duties of a Pope

Pope St. Pius X mentions his papal duties at the very beginning of his encyclical against Modernism, Pascendi Dominici gregis (1907):

The office [of the papacy] divinely committed to Us of feeding the Lord's flock* has especially this duty assigned to it by Christ, namely, to guard with the greatest vigilance the deposit of the faith delivered to the saints, rejecting the profane novelties of words and oppositions of knowledge falsely so called.

*cf. John 21:15-17, where Jesus tells St. Peter, the first Pope, to feed his flock (i.e., to give Christians the truths necessary for salvation).

St. Thomas Aquinas's commentary on John 21:15-17 overviews the duties of a pope. A pope is to feed the flock (i.e., all Christians) by:

  1. teaching: "And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding" (Jer 3:15).

  2. example: "Set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity" (1 Tim 4:12); "Upon the mountain heights of Israel," that is, in the excellence of great men, "shall be their pasture" (Ez 34:14).

  3. being offered temporal help: "Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?" (Ez 34:2).

So, a pope must teach (cf. the Great Commission, Mt. 28:19: "Going therefore, teach ye all nations"), sanctify, and rule (yes, even temporally; cf. Cdl. Manning's The Temporal Power of the Vicar of Christ).

The Council of Florence defined, and the First Vatican Council (Pastor Æternus cap. 4) reiterated, that

the Roman Pontiff is the true vicar of Christ, and the head of the whole Church, and the father and teacher of all Christians; and that to him in blessed Peter was delivered by our Lord Jesus Christ the full power of feeding, ruling, and governing the whole Church.

Vatican I called this the Roman Pontiff's "pastoral duty" or pastorale munus (ibid.).

Pope Benedict XIV wrote (Pastoralis Romani Pontificis):

the duties of his [i.e., of a Pope's] office, are principally and above all manifested in maintaining and conserving the unity and integrity of the Catholic faith, without which it is impossible to please God.

"Bad Popes"

Bad popes would be those who do not live up to their aforementioned duties.

Regarding "bad popes" and such bad "popes" that they are not even popes, see this article:

  • I just want to comment that pastorali muneri is the Dative form of the Nominative pastorale munus; in Latin, the Nominative is considered the "base form" and it should be easier to search for instances of the phrase in Google by using it.
    – Wtrmute
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 12:21
  • @Wtrmute yes, it is more correct to use the nominative
    – Geremia
    Commented May 15, 2017 at 20:02

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