Catholics regard Peter as the first pope. In the gospel we learn that Peter's mother-in-law was healed, thus Peter was married. On the other hand, today the popes are never married and married men cannot be elected pope.

I'm interested in the chronology of this change from the first married to the unmarried, celibate popes of today.

  1. Who was the last pope we know of was married?
  2. From what point in time on can we know for sure no pope was married anymore?

Please note that between these two points in time there might be a substantial time span as a result of a lack of data or regulation.

Please also note that I am not interested in the history or the general merits of priestly celibacy as a whole, I was able to research that elsewhere.

  • Correction: any male Catholic can be elected Pope. The cardinals probably won't elect a man who isn't already a bishop or cardinal, but they could elect anyone.
    – workerjoe
    Jan 17, 2020 at 14:02
  • @workerjoe see the linked question on that topic Jan 17, 2020 at 14:49
  • Widowers can still enter sacred Orders and could theoretically become bishops or popes.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 20, 2020 at 11:59

2 Answers 2


Popes who were legally married either as Pope or before they became clergy and were in fact widowed at the time of their election as Supreme Pontiff are as follows:

  • St. Peter (30/33-64/67) Mother-in-law is mentioned in the Gospel verses Matthew 8:14–15, Luke 4:38, Mark 1:29–31 and who was healed by Jesus at her home in Capernaum. 1 Cor. 9:5 asks whether others have the right to be accompanied by Christian wives as does "Cephas" (Peter). Clement of Alexandria wrote: "When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, 'Remember the Lord.' Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them.”

  • Pope Felix III (483–492) Married and widowed before he was elected as pope.

  • Pope Hormisdas (514–523) Married and widowed before he took Holy Orders.

  • Pope Adrian II (867–872) Married to Stephania before he took Holy Orders,[9] she was still living when he was elected Pope and resided with him in the Lateran Palace

  • Pope John XVII (1003) Married before his election as Pope.

  • Pope Clement IV (1265–1268) Married before taking holy orders.

  • Pope Honorius IV (1285–1287) Married before he took Holy Orders, widowed before entered the clergy.

Popes who were legally married

The last pope to be married and pope at the same time was Pope John XVII (1003). In 1075, Pope Gregory VII made celibacy mandatory in the Latin Rite.

From 1075 and on no individual could become pope while still married. If a pope remained true to his vow of celibacy that is another matter.

In 1075 Pope Gregory VII issued a decree effectively barring married priests from ministry, a discipline formalized by the First Lateran Council in 1123. Since then celibacy has been required of Roman Catholic priests, though the Catholic churches of the East have continued to allow priests to marry before their ordination. - Why are priests celibate?

Widowers have always been permitted to become priests and bishops.

  • 3
    The link elaborates, but celibacy is not required of Roman Catholic priests who have converted from other Christian denominations while married.
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 16, 2020 at 16:50
  • Ken, you write that "[f]rom 1075 and on no individual could become pope while still married", but this appears to apply only to Latin-rite priests. Priests from other rites of the Catholic church are eligible for the papacy, so isn't it still legally possible for a married priest from one of these rites to become pope?
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 6, 2020 at 9:15
  • @Psychonaut No, because Pope John Palul,s Universi Dominici gregis must be of the Latin Rite. Hypothetically, you could be right, but it does not make sense. Besides, popes are always elected as bishops in modern days.
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 6, 2020 at 11:31
  • @KenGraham, according to the answer to another question here, there has been at least one non-Latin-rite papabile in modern times, and "opinion is divided" as to whether a non-Latin-rite pope-elect would be required to adopt the Latin rite.
    – Psychonaut
    Feb 6, 2020 at 15:35
  • @Psychonaut That answer say no such thing. But Pope John Paul does say the following: I once more affirm that the College of electors of the Supreme Pontiff is composed solely of the Cardinals of Holy Roman Church. In them one finds expressed in a remarkable synthesis the two aspects which characterize the figure and office of the Roman Pontiff: Roman, because identified with the Bishop of the Church in Rome and thus closely linked to the clergy of this City, represented by the Cardinals of the presbyteral and diaconal titles of Rome, and to the Cardinal Bishops of the suburbicarian Sees .
    – Ken Graham
    Feb 6, 2020 at 23:49

You mention both marriage and celibacy in your question. Since "celibate" means abstaining from marriage and sexual relations:

  • The last documented pope who was married was Pope Honorius IV (1285–1287), married before he took Holy Orders, widowed before entered the clergy.

  • The last documented pope who had sexual relations after receiving holy orders was Pope Leo XII (1823–1829), as nuncio in Germany fathered three illegitimate children.

  • The last documented pope who had sexual relations with women during pontificate was Pope Alexander VI (1492–1503), ad a long affair with Vannozza dei Cattanei while still a priest, but before he became pope; and by her had his illegitimate children Cesare Borgia, Giovanni Borgia, Gioffre Borgia, and Lucrezia. A later mistress, Giulia Farnese, was the sister of Alessandro Farnese, and she gave birth to a daughter (Laura) while Alexander was in his 60s and reigning as pope.[41] Alexander fathered at least seven, and possibly as many as ten illegitimate children, and did much to promote his family's interests – using his offspring to build alliances with a number of important dynasties.[42] He appointed Giovanni Borgia as Captain General of the Church, and made Cesare a Cardinal of the Church – also creating independent duchies for each of them out of papal lands.

  • The last documented pope who had sexual relations with men was Pope Julius III (1550–1555), The Venetian ambassador at that time reported that Innocenzo shared the pope's bed.

  • The last documented pope who had sexual relations with men and women was Pope Benedict IX (1032– became pope in 1044, again in 1045 and finally 1047–1048). Accused by Bishop Benno of Piacenza of "many vile adulteries." Pope Victor III referred in his third book of Dialogues to "his rapes... and other unspeakable acts." His life prompted Peter Damian to write an extended treatise against illicit sex in general, and homosexuality in particular. In his Liber Gomorrhianus, Damian accused Benedict IX of routine sodomy and bestiality and sponsoring orgies. In May 1045, Benedict IX resigned his office to get married.

The full historical list of popes who were married before holy orders, or violated celibacy can be found here.

  • Very nice answer. Can you add, if there is information regarding that, the last pope to be married during his pontificate, or at least at the same time as being a priest? Or state that there is no such occurence if there is none. I think it's one case that is missing and would make the answer even better.
    – kutschkem
    Jan 16, 2020 at 11:36
  • Your answer is deceiving because Pope Honorius IV was a widower when he entered Holy Orders. Thus he was not married at the time he was pope like St. Peter.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 16, 2020 at 11:44
  • 4
    In this context "celibate" means unmarried, while "continent" means abstaining from sexual relations.
    – OrangeDog
    Jan 16, 2020 at 16:51
  • @OrangeDog: Huh. That makes "remaining celibate until marriage" a lot easier. :-)
    – user47727
    Jan 17, 2020 at 15:22
  • 1
    There is a lot of non related subject matter in this answer.
    – Ken Graham
    Jan 18, 2020 at 22:31

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