From clerical sex abuse scandals to accusations of money-laundering and ties with the mafia over the years, critics do not have to indulge in Dan Brown â€œDa Vinci Codeâ€ theories to accuse the Church of slipping from its moral code.
While rumours of wild sex parties may nowadays be more easily associated with former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, the tiny Vatican state in the heart of Rome was once a hotbed of lust and depravity.
10th century pope John XII, appointed aged just 18, is said to have indulged his teenage sex drive by throwing exotic orgies, sparking outraged religious observers to describe the Lateran palace, the papal home, as a whore house.
Benedict IX, accused by his enemies of being a rapist and a murderous â€œdemon from hell,â€ reportedly whiled away his time in homosexual trysts before selling his papacy, trying to take it back again by force and being unceremoniously excommunicated.
Alexander VI, from the immensely powerful and nepotistic Borgia family, threw a famous banquet in Rome in 1501 at which 50 courtesans and cardinals reportedly won prizes for crawling around naked to pick up scattered chestnuts.
Some popes were elected as Italyâ€™s elite jostled for power, while others gleefully used the papacy for personal, and sometime bizarreÂ vendettas.
Ninth century Pope Stephen VI has gone down in history for digging up his predecessor, propping his corpse up on a throne and putting him on trial for becoming pope illegally â€” before finding him guilty and tossing him into the Tiber.
Tolerance for bad behaviour did not extend to Pope Joan, who legend has it disguised herself as a man in the Middle Ages but was caught out when she gave birth, leading to a now-defunct tradition of checking under future popesâ€™ robes.
While tales of prostitutes and poisoned chalices have subsided over the last few centuries, the Church has been rocked instead in recent years by a clerical abuse scandal which has revealed cases of paedophilia in parishes worldwide.
Thousands of victims have come forward to confront their abusers and accuse the Church of engaging in a systematic cover-up by moving suspected priests on to other parishes and endangering other children rather than reporting them.
The Holy See has also been hit hard by accusations of mafia ties, fraud and money-laundering within the Vatican bank, known as the Institute for Religious Works (IOR). [More]