05/07/2013 02:36 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

11 Outrageous Popes (And Why We Love 'Em!)


It's been a great season for pope watching. Benedict XVI retiring, Pope Francis washing teenagers' feet, last year's Vatican leaks scandal, the impending sainthood of Pope John Paul II, and so much more.

I love it!

And I'm not even Catholic.

Why do I find the pope so intriguing? It's not just the big rings and cool car. It's the power, the history, the intensity of the role.

Stretching back (at least in theory) to the Apostle Peter, the papacy has been a near constant superpower that has outlived empires, survived world wars, and shaped western history perhaps more than any other single secular or non-secular office. An incredible list of men -- and possibly one woman -- have held the highest position of the Catholic church. Some have been hermits, some scoundrels, all have earned both adoring admirers and deadly enemies.

They've held an office that often casts them as more than human. For many Christians, the pope is the visible representation of an invisible concept, the audible voice for the all-too-often-silent God, a living authority of God's debated opinions. For some Catholics, the pope has been the clearest link to the divine. After all, you can doubt the existence of God, but with that big hat the pope is hard to miss.

So when these people held to such high standards demonstrate their fallibility, it's enthralling and sometimes horrifying. But undeniably human. What makes the following list of bizarre characters in the long, illustrious tradition of the papacy fascinating is their utter humanity -- sexual, compassionate, greedy, fearful, noble, criminal and thoroughly unpredictable.

11 Outrageous Popes