Corrupt Church

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
"That guy probably deserved it. Pay no heed, ye faithful."

Sister Eda: What the hell's your problem?! Don't you know what Jesus said in Luke 11? "Don't trouble me. The door's locked" -- got that, bitch?
Jane: B-but this is a church, isn't it?!

Eda: So what? God's not in today. He's on vacation in Vegas, all right?

Not even the most religious of places are safe from evil. In fact, the Corrupt Church is often portrayed as much worse than a simple Supervillain Lair or secular League Of Evil, because when even holy priests and ministers turn to the dark side, they can psychologically manipulate the masses with mere superstition, so what hope is there for society? Tends to be highly influential over political leaders to stress the church's power over everyone.

Major villains from the Corrupt Church can include Knights Templar, Sinister Ministers, Heresy-crushing Inquisitors and other typical ambitious villains using a convenient power structure for their own ends. The Creepy Cathedral tends to be their base of operations. If a work is set in the modern day, then the leader of the Corrupt Church will often be a televangelist, in which case the "straw Christian conservative" aspects will be ratcheted Up to Eleven. (Which is a bit ironic, since most televangelists hail from evangelical Protestant sects, which are almost by definition small-scale and wield little power compared to their Roman Catholic counterparts.) The Strawman Conservative may be a member, or even a leader, in one of these.

If the Corrupt Church is used for satire, the Crystal Dragon Jesus might appear.

Distinct from the Path of Inspiration because the Corrupt Church actually started out as a legitimate religion but has Gone Horribly Wrong. Unlike the Religion of Evil, an openly evil religion, the teachings may still be sound, and there may be good-hearted people in it yet—usually laity or low-ranking clergy, even a Good Shepherd—though neither of these can be counted on.

In a world with active, interventionist gods, the Corrupt Church is probably headed for an unexpected intersection with its deity. The only real question is how long it takes the god to notice they have a problem with their priesthood and do something about it -- a god's sense of time is likely to be very different from that of his mortal worshipers. Its god may be patiently attempting to nudge its church back on the proper course, or simply be waiting for the right time (or person) to inflict a very dramatic object lesson on the hierarchy. Or perhaps the god has abandoned the church entirely, leaving it an illegitimate organization with no divine power backing it, while possibly empowering prophets and reformers to bring it down.

Compare with the Cult and Church of Happyology. Contrast with the Saintly Church. Contrast also with Church Militant, as the church is not evil per se, but at least badass.

No real life examples, please; calling real-life people "corrupt" is an extremely bad idea. Whilst there have been corrupt clerics and callous doctrines throughout history, every religion (and lack thereof) will have both defenders and detractors somewhere out there.

And remember - somewhere, your local deity is Face Palming.

Examples of Corrupt Church include:

Anime and Manga

  • The Ripoff Church in Black Lagoon; it's unlikely their smuggling, their gunplay, their money-grubbing, or their hiring of foul-mouthed Bottle Fairy Nuns with guns are endorsed by the Catholic church as a whole.
  • The Vatican in D.Gray-man. the entire upper hierarchy is apparently a bunch of blind-to-the-truth bastards... and are made of a couple akuma, as well. Not the exorcists. Just the vatican.
  • The Church of the Black Cross in Glass Fleet. The pope murdered the previous king and later stages a coup d'etat against the current emperor. Not to mention that the "black cross" it worships is actually a black hole that will eventually kill everyone if they don't move away from it.
  • The Catholic Church in Hellsing. After Millenium attacks London, they send their army of a couple thousand knights in helicopters to England. Will they aid in the purging of the undead? Well, yes, but thei will also kill all engligh men women and child because they're all dirty heathens. This may seem like a "normal" act of zealousy that would not fall under this category, that and Maxwell was responsible for most of this, but even before that, they still have a secret special force of kamikaze priests with guns led by an Anderson, Axe Crazy Blood Knight priest that kills zombies, vampires and non-christian alike. And don't forget the aformentioned mechanized army.
  • The Church in Spice and Wolf is considered essentially as an unfairly privileged business enterprise by the various merchants seen in the series, and practically everyone is willing to turn a blind eye to things the Church opposes, and even help its enemies, as long as there is no immediate threat of being caught. Since the Church considers being deformed a capital offense, and happily uses its power to make profit in the expense of others, these opinions seem quite justified.
  • The Holy See of Berserk are as corrupt and tyrannical as you can expect a religious group with a good amount of power in the Crapsack World of the series to get, made worse by clues that they're actually worshipping the Godhand, the Big Bads of the setting, rather than the Four Elemental Kings. The main activity of its adherents seems to be stamping out "heresy" however they can, with Mozgus being the absolute worst in this regard.
  • Mostly any Hentai which centers around churches' activities. The holyness archetype can't stop this genre from going wild.

Comic Books

  • The Church of the Instrumentality in Marvel's Dreadstar comics, an interplanetary theocracy headed by a cross of Emperor Palpatine and Mongul called Lord Papal.
  • In the comic book The Darkness, the organization that formally employed The Magdalena, heavily implied to be descended from the Inquisition.
  • The Catholic Church in Rex Mundi.
  • The Catholic Church in Le Scorpion.
  • The National Lampoon did the "Son O'God" comic books (drawn by Neal Adams) depicting Jesus as a superhero from a fundamentalist Protestant POV - the archvillain ran the Catholic church, depicted as could be expected.
  • Many Sin City churches seem to answer to Cardinal Roark, a member of a psychotic crime family. We do get to see at least one nun who is a decent person so it apparently doesn't extend to all parishes.
  • The Grail in Preacher, also doubles as a NGO Superpower.
  • The Batman comics introduced us to the Order of St. Dumas, a heretical Catholic sect started during the Crusades by the murderous Swiss knight Chartrien Dumas. Dumas went so far as to have his men slaughter emissaries from the Vatican without provocation and declare himself Pope. He also began a tradition of "holy" vigilantism, wherein the title of "Azrael" (a sword-wielding "angel") would assassinate "sinners," often simply as a pretext for seizing their wealth from them. (For centuries, the Order of St. Dumas was - secretly - the single wealthiest organization on Earth.) Fathers prepared their sons to succeed them as the avenging angel, subjecting them to grueling physical training and weird, mind-warping rituals. The heir to this violent tradition, Jean-Paul Valley, moved to Gotham City to attend college and quickly became Bruce Wayne's apprentice. Things went downhill from there...


  • Taken to an almost absurd degree by the film King Arthur, going so far as to invent a martyrdom for the historical heretic Pelagius and portray Saint Germanus of Auxerre (who died two decades before the film is set) as a backstabbing tyrant.
  • Subverted in The Night of the Hunter: Mr. Powell is not even a real preacher, but dresses and acts like one to gain his victims' trust.
  • The second half of Alejandro Jodorowsky's Acid Western El Topo features a corrupt church with an Illuminati-style All-Seeing-Eye emblem, sacramental Russian Roulette, and respectively subjugated and hyper-indulged slave and ruling castes.
  • The Neolite sect in Babylon A.D., a combination of New Age cult and high-tech corporate money-making machine. One character says (moments before he's shot by its High Priestess): "Your church is a lie! You're peddling miracles for your own profit!".
  • Luther (2003) - It is a movie about the life of Martin Luther and why he initiated the Reformation. It reveals the extent of the corruption in the Catholic Church in 15th Century Europe (see Literature examples below) in very clear, explanatory detail.
  • The Documentary Marjoe showed us how the trope of a corrupt, cynical evangelist who is in it for the money is Truth in Television.
  • Elmer Gantry[context?]
  • The asylum in which young women were imprisoned and abused by nuns and a corrupt priest in The Magdalene Sisters, which served in the film as a microcosm for the hold the Irish Catholic church had on society in Ireland before the 1970s.


  • Several times in The Bible both from the prophets and from Jesus, although by Jesus' time at least, idolatry and child sacrifice had disappeared. Several times Jesus is shown berating Rabbis, Priests, and Pharisees in a ferocious manner. It is to be noted though that these were the ones who exploited their position. Other Jewish leaders who sincerely wanted to learn or ask help from Him are treated as sternly or politely as any teacher treats students according to circumstance but are not treated as enemies and are given the help appropriate to them like any other human.
  • Older Than Print: Dante's Divine Comedy depicts a number of corrupt churchmen from Dante's time in Hell (including several popes), and one in Purgatory. Overall, Dante presents an extremely unflattering opinion of the 14th-century Catholic Church... which was, by all accounts, very accurate.
  • A few decades later, Boccaccio's Decameron presents numerous examples of the corruption of the Catholic Church and its churchmen, starting with the second story of the first day. In that one, an honorable and upstanding Parisian Jewish merchant named Abraham is constantly beseeched by his Christian friend and fellow businessman Jehannot de Chevigny to convert to Christianity; to decide whether he should do so, Abraham goes to Rome in order to observe the Church hierarchy—which causes Jehannot to go Oh Crap, as he knows full well how corrupt the Church of his time is. However, upon returning to Paris from Rome, having observed the terrible habits of the Pope and his court, Abraham declares he will become a Christian reasoning that if the Catholic Church can withstand all this corruption at the top and still boast millions of pious followers, it must be the true religion, or at least have something supernatural going for it.
  • Terry Pratchett's Discworld novel Small Gods revolves around the Church of Om, which has become so dogmatic that only one person in the entire religion, a simple-minded acolyte named Brutha, still has actual faith in the teachings of the religion itself. Everyone else worships not the god, but the bureaucracy of the church (and does so out of fear). Since gods on the Discworld are sustained by belief, this has very negative consequences for Om himself.
  • The institution of the Magisterium in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials. Distinct from the "thinly-veiled Catholic churches" of fantasy because it's not veiled at all; it is simply the Catholic Church in another dimension.
    • One where John Calvin ruled as Pope from Geneva... The last one, because they dissolved the position following his death, opting for a more decentralized structure. Doesn't help that they're not actually worshiping the Creator of the Universe, just the First Angel, whose spiritual successor, Metatron, was really, really hoping to lead a multiverse-wide Super Inquisition under the guise of each universe's Magisterium/Church equivalent.
      • It's also worth noting that although it's the antagonistic force in the first novel, the Magisterium isn't inherently evil - just misguided. The General Oblation Board, one faction of the organization mostly dealt with in the novel, however, is close to Exclusively Evil.
    • Curiously, in the film version of The Golden Compass, it is by no means clear that the Magisterium is a church (or how the "dust theory" is incompatible with its doctrines). Nobody involved in it seems to do any preaching, praying, or worshiping. It seems to be simply a heavy authoritarian government. Studios demanded it. However, the robes are kind of a giveaway, and it might be even made more sinister by not explaining why it's incompatible. The Magsterium in the film seems to have a lot of religious paraphernalia associated with it. There's religious imagery on the door Iorek smashes through. Its members wear priestly uniforms and speak of "heresy". It certainly has church-based elements in it.
  • The medieval Catholic Church, as portrayed in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose. Eco, an accomplished medievalist, delivers a decidedly unflattering image of an eminent abbey that has become a festering nest of petty politicking, depravity, cloak-and-dagger subterfuge, and outright religious lunacy. Just about the only clergyman treated somewhat favorably in the entire novel is Brother William—and he's a closet heretic.
    • Keep in mind that, in the time period that The Name of the Rose is set in, the Papacy and the monasteries were engaged in a civil war which only ended because of shady powerbrokering. And Adso, Severinus, and (to a degree) Salvatore are all treated favourably... but Salvatore's another heretic. And a Psychopathic Manchild.
    • Ubertino da Casale and Michele da Cesena (both historical figures) also get a positive portrayal.
    • Bernard Gui is also real, and the scene where he breaks Remigio is lifted almost verbatim from his actual Inquisitor's Manual (where it is given to illustrate interrogation dodges used by the Waldense.)
  • The Church of Pardal in part three of David Weber's Heirs of Empire trilogy exists for the sole purpose of keeping technology at a pre-industrial level. It was originally created to enforce a quarantine against the spread of a really nasty bioweapon virus, but it has lasted and dominated the planet of Pardal for at least 9,000 years.
  • Used Again by David Weber in his Safehold Series. The Church of God Awaiting started out as a Path of Inspiration, but it's metamorphosed into a Corrupt Church by the time the main story starts. Not only does the Church function as essentially an ego-trip left over from the planet's original colonizers, but in the beginning of the first book they're flagrantly accepting bribes and actively searching for a reason to try and destroy a country that they think is getting too powerful, and at the end of the book they've essentially made the country all the more powerful not only due to driving nations away from their influence by forcing them to commit to a war that they didn't want, but said war also caused the death of the nation's king, uniting the people not only in grief but in sheer unbridled rage at them.
  • French science-fiction writer Pierre Bordage is fond of this trope, which he included in many of his works. Often, the protagonists even discover elements proving that the founders of the church were truly inspired people, and that the organization they founded simply went horribly wrong, sometimes out of sheer fanaticism.
  • Barbara Hambly, in The Darwath Trilogy and The Windrose Chronicles, provides particularly egregious cases. In both, the generic "The Church" has no discernible reason for existing other than to make Our Heroes miserable, as it has no connection with the real life of the rest of the population, and no visible theology other than "wizards are evil".
  • The US President keeps a preacher on the cabinet in Robert Zubrin's The Holy Land, and follows his policy recommendations. There being pagan aliens in Kennewick, Washington, to kill, the reverend doesn't see the problem with 100:1 casualty ratios, so long as the American Christians outnumber the pagan aliens 300:1.
    • "Jesus is love." Singularity annihilates seven inhabited planets.
  • The Sharpe books are loaded with corrupt churchmen. Usually crazy Roman Catholic fanatics who think the French armies who have invaded and despoiled their country are the lesser of two evils when set against their Protestant English allies.
    • In fact, Bernard Cornwell loves this trope. All throughout the trilogy and even during the height of Arthur's Golden Age in The Warlord Chronicles, corrupt Christian Churches are a major source of trouble, spreading corruption, and civil unrest. Of course, they're just one source of trouble, as crazy Pagan fanatics and various people with no ideology besides gaining wealth and power also cause all sorts of problems.
    • Cornwell has acknowledged this in interviews - he was raised as a member a very straight-laced (and very small) sect of English Christians called the Peculiar People, who, whilst as far from a corrupt church as one can get, were at the vanguard of what Cornwell calls "the Fun Prevention League". Indeed, his whole career (writing about a violent, fornicating warrior) is something of a Take That towards the pacifist Peculiars.
  • Cosmic Unity in the science fiction novel Heaven by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen. Starting with the idea that inter-planetary war would be so destructive everyone must join together to form a, well, cosmic unity, it has became a fundamentalist group bent on assimilating everyone, preaching tolerance to all differences as long as everyone consents to become exactly the same under the church. They combine a genuinely Orwellian attitude with some subvertingly literalistic applications of the original compassionate doctrines of their founders.
  • The religion founded by Paul Atreides in Dune. Even its objects of worship (Paul, Alia, Leto II and Ghanima) thought it was corrupt.
  • Kidnappings, forced conversions and marriages, and vigilantes hunting down and killing those who try to escape? Welcome to the Mormon Church, circa A Study in Scarlet.
  • Elmer Gantry: While there are honest clergy in the book, Gantry himself is portrayed as basically a con-man who's in love with the sound of his own voice and is in the religious life for money and women.
  • The church in Callisoria, a land in Maggie Furey's Shadowleague books, though it improves once disaster strikes and Gilarra replaces the old Hierarch.
  • The Faith of the Seven in A Song of Ice and Fire, has its fair share of corrupt clergymen, especially in the upper echelons (generally the rank-and-file clergy are much nicer, apart from Septon Utt). The Most Devout and the High Septon are basically in the pocket of Tywin Lannister, not to mention being extremely hypocritical (frequenting whorehouses and feasting while the city starves). In A Feast For Crows, a new High Septon puts a stop to this sort of thing, although even he is prepared to ignore the allegations of incest (one of the deadliest sins in the Faith) surrounding the parentage of King Tommen I Baratheon in return for the Faith being allowed to reconstitute its old private armies.
  • In Robert E. Howard's Conan the Barbarian story "Rogues in the House," when the priest Nabonidus accuses Murilo, Murilo counter accuses:

“I have no more cause for shame than you, you vulture-hearted plunderer,” answered Murilo promptly. “You exploit a whole kingdom for your personal greed; and, under the guise of disinterested statesmanship, you swindle the king, beggar the rich, oppress the poor, and sacrifice the whole future of the nation for your ruthless ambition. You are no more than a fat hog with his snout in the trough. You are a greater thief than I am. This Cimmerian is the most honest man of the three of us, because he steals and murders openly.”
“Well, then, we are all rogues together,” agreed Nabonidus equably. “And what now? My life?”

  • In Paul Hoffman's The Left Hand of God trilogy, the Church of the Hanged Redeemer is a cruel, corrupt religious organization.
  • Post-Apocalypse novel Malevil has the Parish of La Roque. It's really little more then a four-man oligarchy operating under the leadership of a fake priest. They tricked the townspeople into giving the priest control over the supplies, then became abusive and cruel under the guise of the "parish council".
  • While many of the rank-and-file clergy and believers of the Unionist Church in Wicked are harmless, the bishops and higher-ups are in league with the Wizard and using the faith to justify all kinds of persecution and social oppression in Oz. The oppression and inqusitorial practices don't end when "Oz the Great and Powerful" is run out of town.
  • Part of an Ol-Zhaan's duties in Kindar society is the role of priest, worshiping and cultivating the sacred Wissenberry vine, keeping the Perfect Pacifist People from learning too much about things like hatred and anger, and making damn sure the dissidents and their progeny are kept sealed below the ground to starve...
  • Karse in Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar series is a theocracy. At first everything was fine, but then it became corrupt, and stayed that way for a couple of centuries until Vkandis Sunlord decided to make his displeasure known, and a Bolt of Divine Retribution later, rearranged the Church.
  • Arguably the Enigma Babylon One World Faith in the Left Behind books is this, composed primarily of the Roman Catholic Church combined with various sects of Christianity that did not adhere to fundamentalist theology along with other religions believing that their doctrines can be found somehow compatible with each other.
  • The Christian Church in The Mists of Avalon is depicted as misogynistic, authoritarian, close-minded and just generally nasty. Of course, the pagan religious leaders, especially Viviane, are often antagonistic and overzealous to the point of cruelty, but Christianity is definitely given the harsher treatment.
  • Used like crazy in Robert Westall's short story "The Stones of Muncaster Cathedral". Choice quotes: "When the Church had power, it went on like a ravening beast." "Where do you think the money [for cathedrals] came from, in a country where half the people nigh starved to death every winter? The money came from the workers, and the workers' children starved. Every stone must be a death, nearly. To the glory of God." The story's main plot is about Really Creepy Supernatural Horror Stuff up on one tower of said Muncaster cathedral.
  • The Obligators from Mistborn are an odd example. Though nominally a priesthood, they function more as bureacrats and politicians, being much more interested in administering The Empire and palying political games with the nobility and each other than in tending to people's spiritual needs. Turns out that their god couldn't be happier with them- he cares more about running an empire than about true faith, and designed his religion accordingly.
  • Valentin Ivashchenko likes this trope, as the depiction of the local Crystal Dragon Jesus church including an Absolute Xenophobe clergy practicing Fantastic Racism towards other sentients and The Inquisition inside the church varies very little between settings. The most sympathetic description includes an inner conflict in the church.
  • Burden of the Emperor series by Iar Elterrus (Бремя Императора, Иар Эльтеррус): the most successful conspiracy against the Empire heavily involved the church, including the death of the Emperor. An old document testifying to the peaceful demise of an imperial dignitary in a monastery several centuries ago leads to a massive revision of the church history. The church was actually slowly, carefully and deliberately pushed from Saintly Church into this trope with a good helping of Absolute Xenophobe on the side.
  • Alien by Igor' Dravin (Чужак, Игорь Дравин): while those monasteries close to the setting's Hell Gate see the signs and know very well where their duties and loyalties belong, other branches and orders within the local Crystal Dragon Jesus church are still fighting for power and influence.

Live-Action TV

  • Brother Justin Crowe, in the HBO series Carnivale has two of these. First, his traditional Methodist church in Mintern in Season One is kind of sketchy, as its members are racist, with the occasional pedophile thrown in for good measure. In Season Two, he forms the Temple of Jericho, dedicated to his pursuit of darkness, which expands into a city-sized encampment, called New Canaan.
  • Part of the plot of the second season of Waterloo Road features the leader of a creation ministry trying to take over the titular school.
  • Sliders: In "Prophets and Loss", an Evangelical Right so evil and powerful that it has outlawed all science and performs chemical lobotomies on "rationalists" claims to control an interdimensional portal to heaven. The heroes notice that it looks awfully similar to their own portal... but it doesn't actually go anywhere; it's just an incinerator tied to a special effect so that the church can vacuum up assets from the gullible and kill them. The Chief Oracle even describes herding unbelievers into these ovens as "the final solution." Take That, Jerry Falwell!
    • In "The Chasm", the Temple of the Chasm worships, and sacrifices people to, what was created as a psychoactive theme park ride.
  • The writers clearly meant to portray the Fellowship of the Sun from True Blood in this way. However, given that even the friendly neighbourhood vampires tend to murder people now and then, YMMV on how fair this is.
  • Played for laughs in the Blackadder the Second through "the Baby-Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells", whose job consists entirely of loan sharking. Throughout the episode he's featured in the bishop makes plain his fondness for whores and torture. When Blackadder orchestrates an elaborate scheme to blackmail the bishop (by framing him for an act outside of the church's condoned list of perversities) he is condemned by the bishop as a complete moral degenerate, and offered a job in the church for it.
    • In the first season, Edmund's brief stint as Archbishop of Canterbury also reveals a little corruption in the church, mostly of the indulgences and fake relics sort. Oh, and the favours of nuns, mostly sold to other nuns.
  • The Ori from Stargate SG-1‍'‍s last seasons. The teachings were good, the interpretations and the purpose of the Ori themselves... well, not so much.
    • Among their more heinous acts is a Prior molding a story to have a different ending than the Ori's holy book in order to justify destroying a village.


  • Mercilessly and hilariously skewered in Genesis's song "Jesus He Knows Me", which had the members playing corrupt televangelists and singing about it.

On the cover of the magazine, there's no question why I'm smiling
You buy a piece of paradise, You buy a piece of me
I'll get you everything you wanted, I'll get you everything you need
Don't need to believe in hereafter... Just believe in me!

  • There's also a corrupt church in some of the songs from Queensryche's Operation: Mindcrime.
  • In Limp Bizkit's "The Priest".[context?]
  • Iron Maiden's "Holy Smoke" is all about Jesus returning to Earth and delivering one long "The Reason You Suck" Speech to greedy televangelists.
  • Motörhead's "God Was Never On Your Side": "They claim to heal, but all they do is steal, ABUSE YOUR faith, cheat, and ROB"

Tabletop Games

  • In Warhammer 40,000 the Imperium of Man's Ecclesiarchy and to a lesser extent the Cult Mechanicus are massively corrupt and choking morasses that between them keep the Imperium in a state of technological stasis and ignorance and ruthlessly suppress atheists, agnostics, or other modes of religious or scientific thought through a space Inquisition. The Ecclesiarchy's growing influence once near destroyed the Imperium under the misrule of Mad Lord Vandire—and what worse is that it has deified the God-Emperor, who himself was an atheist and became deeply offended by attempts to do so to him while he was still conscious. However, bad as they are, the alternatives are far, far, far worse.
    • They aren't as bad about technology as this says; while they hardly advance quickly, new things are invented on a regular basis, usually by combining existing technologies in new and imaginative ways. As for the Emperor, he wasn't quite an atheist; he knew very well that gods existed and was powerful enough to be considered one himself; he just told everyone that there was no gods to weaken the Chaos gods, who feed off belief.
    • which badly failed because the Chaos Gods feed on emotion and blind faith hurts them. And that said both Ecclesiasarchy and Cult Mechanicus aren't as Corrupt as many think.
    • And of course, in the Crapsack World that is the WH40k universe, free-thinking, open-mindedness and tolerance of unorthodox religious views has a very high risk of resulting in Demonic Possession, opening a literal Hellmouth, and the ravaging of your home planet by The Legions of Hell. Really, the Church is doing you a favour when it executes you for dabbling in things you were not meant to know of.
    • The Ecclesiarchy of "Confederacy of Light" teachings of 40k millennia may look brutal sometimes, but on the average it's downright nice when compared to insanity of the years immediately before the Reformation, when the old "Temple of the Saviour Emperor" Ecclesiarchy became a puppet of Goge Vandire. That time is known as "The Reign of Blood" - which really says something, given usual practices of the Imperium and tagline "...there's only war". Yet there's a sect secretly sticking to the old ways of - now itself considered heretical, of course. The greed stuck and one of the few visible giveaways is that they shoot for opulence in their temples.
  • Dungeons & Dragons, being the kitchen sink.
    • The Lawful Neutral god Pholtus, of Greyhawk, isn't exactly evil, although it's known for being intolerant of other faiths and very strict in its doctrines. The faith is also split into several feuding branches, one of which is a group of murderous religious bandits. It should be said, though, that his faith is also one of the most ardent opponents of the living demigod Iuz and his demon empire, and they're downright mild compared to the devil-worshipping remnants of the Great Kingdom, where the state religion was dominated by the worship of Hextor, god of tyranny and the "Herald of Hell."
      • Also, the Neutral Good sun god Pelor from Greyhawk has a popular speculation that he is actually evil. The reason being inconsistencies in the "lore" of generic D&D 3.x - Too Many Cooks Spoil the Soup, especially when they don't have a good continuity editor nor - too often - good sense to check basics on their own.
    • The churches of the gods Helm (god of guardianship) and Torm (god of loyalty) in the Forgotten Realms had both become corrupted by the Time of Troubles. Once the deities actually saw for themselves what their clerics were doing, they immediately set about cleaning up the ranks of their faithful, dictating new rituals and duties as penance to make their followers atone.
      • One of the latest R.A. Salvatore novels has Artemis Entreri return to Memnon in Calimshan to take a bloody vengeance on the corrupted priests of Selûne who were responsible for making his life a living hell as a child.
    • In Eberron, some parts of the church of the Silver Flame. The faith itself is good, but many of its members are either corrupt or Knights Templar (both literally and figuratively).
      • The Blood of Vol in Eberron combines this with Path of Inspiration. The church was set up by Vol for her own purposes. Much of the dogma, on the other hand, pre-dates Vol and can be defended as, if not good, then at least not evil. Effectively, it is a Path of Inspiration in terms of organization and a Corrupt Church in terms of ideals.
    • The last Kingpriest of Istar in the Dragonlance setting. Under his reign, the faith of Paladine became increasing tyrannical and fanatical, to the point where the Knight Templars that made up the clergy began resorting to brutal Mind Rape to ferret out "evil thoughts" among the people. He decided to be the sole judge of how gods should be venerated, and near the end his vault for "wrong" religious items had samples from every single deity save Paladine. It finally reached its apex when the Kingpriest tried to overthrow the gods and take their power for himself despite the gods repeatedly trying to warn him that what he was doing was wrong. Eventually, the Cataclysm took place, destroying the reign of Istar and causing it to sink to the bottom of the ocean. Before which the gods (other than the gods of magic) took away their still-loyal priests and then were pouting for a few centuries.
      • The original modules based on the Chronicles trilogy show just how depraved the clergy has become when ten of the highest-ranking priests (twelve in the updated 3rd Edition module) offer themselves in service to Takhisis. She takes their corrupted essences and turns them into the King of the Deep, a nightmarish sea monster that the Heroes of the Lance must destroy to help the sea elves of Istar.
  • The swords and sorcery expansion for Grave Robbers From Outer Space has a corrupt religious official as one of the attack cards.
  • Kult has Chokmah and the Black Madonna.
  • Magic: The Gathering has the Orzhov Syndicate from the Ravnica block, which is essentially a mafia group masquerading as a church. Their home base is called "the Church of Deals" and one of their ghostly higher-ups mentions that they have no need of military might, because they have thousands of dedicated believers and a lot of money.


  • In Androcles and the Lion, the Emperor, though elevated to divinity, believes in the Roman gods "no more than... any educated man in Rome." Indeed, all that educated Romans have to do with their religion is making token sacrifices to Diana or Jupiter, and that lets them stand on the outside of the arena where Christians who refuse to burn the incense are thrown to the lions.

Video Games

  • BioShock 2 has The Rapture Family. Run by Sophia Lamb, who wishes to bring about helpfulness to all in Rapture. However this is nothing more than a front so Sophia can have complete control of all the ADAM to experiment on. And once her "Utopian" better known as her daughter decides to go against her, she then tries to kill everyone by sinking them.
  • Although the Order in Deus Ex: Invisible War is pretty benevolent, its still a part of the Illuminati conspiracy, as the branch that controls spirituality. The secrecy if the conspiracy is so prevalent that the next highest leader to Her Holiness (actually Nicolette DuClaire, daughter of Illuminatus DuClaire) High Auger Lin-May Chen, didn't even know.
    • Also, the violent rift that formed between the greed-based WTO and the humility-based Order (two parts of the same whole) was not only forseen, it was intended.
  • In Grandia II, the Church of Granas has been hiding the fact that in the Battle of Good and Evil, Granas was killed. At one point in the game, the Church intends to burn down a village and kill its inhabitants in order to purify it. Also, the pope becomes the reincarnation of the evil god Valmar. Seriously.
  • In the world of Dead Space, Unitology has spread to millions of people, and at least half the people on the Ishimura were Unitologists. What do the higher up ask for in return? Just your money and your power, and did we forget to mention your dead body? There were text logs in the game stating they have build entire fleets of ships meant to carry dead bodies. Oh, and did we forget to mention that the holy relic they worship is the source of an evil virus that turns you into hideous, fleshy, tentacle covered sins against nature? Yeah.
  • In the Bastard of Kosigan series (Neverwinter Nights modules), the Catholic Church as it exists in the game was initiated by Archangel Gabriel so he could have complete totalitarian control over the entire world, not just his majority faction of the immortal precursor humans ('angels') instead of the free will faction ('demons'), led by Elisa Than ('Satan'). The two factions have been at war seeing who could manipulate the political and religious scene of the world to turn more humans to their side.
  • Breath of Fire 2, The Grand Church of Evrai. The majority of the general congregation seem to be genuinely well-meaning folks; they would probably react poorly if they knew that the church's leaders were harnessing the power of their faith to free a horrific demon lord.
  • This is basically the entire plot of Resident Evil 4, where a Spanish church uses a parasite to infect the President's daughter and send her home, resulting in terror and tragedy after she inevitably mutates into a creepy monster thing and most likely kills the President. Fortunately, a hero is there to save the day.
  • Final Fantasy Tactics: The Murond Glabados Church is just one of the many Chessmasters in the game. They intend to use the Lion War to seize political power, uniting Ivalice under themselves, and to take advantage of the "Zodiac Brave" tale to gain the approval of the commoners.
    • Murond's Temple Knights are worse. Initially intended to be the new Zodiac Braves for the church's plot, it turns out the Zodiac Stones contain demons, and the leading Temple Knights (willingly or not) become their new hosts. They intend to summon their leader, who also happens to have possessed the Glabados Church's founder back in the day.
    • It turns out that the Glabados Church was founded on entirely false premises, with their "god" actually being a demon. Even the leader of the modern Glabados Church knows none of this. The church just ended up corrupt to the core anyway.
  • Final Fantasy X: The Church of Yu-Yevon is an oppressive, violently Luddite organization that unknowingly (and in some cases knowingly) perpetuates the cycle of Sin's death and rebirth. The head of the church as well as Yunalesca are Unsent, undead monsters that the Church is ostensibly trying to eradicate
  • The Zakarum chose the Guardian Tower where Mephisto was sealed as the place to build their capitol in the Diablo universe. This trope is the consequence of their actions; the player-controlled Paladins are still divinely-empowered guardians, but everyone else became Mephisto's pawns.
  • The Order of the Sword from Devil May Cry 4, who worship Dante and Vergil's father Sparda, is eventually revealed to be led by people seeking demonic power. Arguably not a Path of Inspiration as the Medieval Stasis of the host island suggests it has been in existence for a good while yet and only this batch is evil.
  • In La Pucelle Tactics, the smaller Church of the Holy Maiden, from which the protagonists come, is not corrupt, but the larger Church of the Divine Mother has actually been taken over by a demon bent on corrupting and eventually destroying humanity and demons alike.
  • The Tethe'allan branch of the Church of Martel in Tales of Symphonia: the Pope is a bigoted, racist bastard who is willing to imprison his own daughter because she's a half-elf. He quickly declares the heroes to be plotting the destruction of Tethe'alla, and his Papal Knights become recurring enemies.
    • Of course, the whole religion is also a Path of Inspiration, but that doesn't stop the Pope from turning its benign public face into a corrupt institution as well.
  • The White Mantle of Guild Wars may have saved Kryta from the Charr invasion and helped maintain peace following the monarchy's collapse, but their gods are actually amoral spellcasters who require their followers to sacrifice innocents.
  • The Church of the Goddess, in Dragon Quest VIII is disastrously corrupt - despite two of the major clergy, the Lord High Priest and Abbot Francisco - being benevolent, selfless true believers, the structure of the church is thoroughly rotten - demanding money from the faithful in return for absolution, rising through the ranks based chiefly on bribery, and using the church's martial arm to further personal aims... This results in the heroes quest being stymied at several points. It is implied that much of this corruption has cleaned up, or at least has begun to be cleaned up, by the end of the game.
  • The Order in Silent Hill.
    • Most Order leaders you see in the games are sincere at least, but then there's Father Vincent in Silent Hill 3. He claims to sincerely believe in the Order's God, but he's also honest about the fact that he's just in it for the power, so much so he constantly interferes in Claudia's plans to try to bring about a global paradise by incarnating God on Earth, just so the status quo won't change.
  • The Tribunal Church from The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind definitely has elements of this. Most of its members are stuck-up, elitist jerkasses, especially the higher ups, and their elite guard are arrogant, condescending fanatical bigots who consider even speaking of the Nerevarine or wearing their armor to be capitol offenses.
    • Even worse is that the three "Gods" that make up the Tribunal are actually living beings who have themselves become either corrupted, insane, or just plain disinterested in their followers. If the Gods themselves are jerks, and the Church still follows them, is the Church actually corrupt, or is it doing what it's supposed to? And if the Church's reason for existing goes away, should it be kept around? That is actually a question addressed in the games, and there's no easy answer.
    • All the problems with the living Tribunal stemmed from being cut off from the heart of Lorkhan, the source of their powers and immortality. Because of this, they're slowly losing their divine abilities, and, while supernaturally powerful, can actually be killed by mortals, such as the Nerevarine. In spite of this, only Almalexia becomes corrupt, while Vivec is amiable, if aloof. (Sotha Sil, of course, is already dead.) Still, the good the gods themselves did while they were at full power, such as confronting and banishing Mehrunes Dagon, and the good the church still does (a Dunmer priest of the Nine in Oblivion mentions how he misses the charity work the Tribunal temples used to engage in) are convincing arguments for the value of the temple.
  • The Mechanists of the second Thief game.
  • The Church of EZI from the Play Station 3 version of Eternal Sonata could also qualify, with the church itself being hidden in an icy mountain, accessible only in Encore Mode, inhabited by crazy nerds who not only worship what is supposedly the god of music and laughter among other things, when it turns out to be a weird tiki statue that is also the game's hardest superboss, they also merchandise the thing like crazy, creating useless/creepy items such as crackers that make children cry, ruined string phones, and pajamas that induce nightmares when slept in.
  • Though confined to a single house of worship rather than a widespread institution, Oublie Cathedral in Eternal Darkness is this trope in spades. Going back to the 9th century, its clergy has been replaced by demons in disguise who worship the Big Bad. This is particularly highlighted in the cathedral's second level, when Paul Luther discovers that the demons have been publicizing a fake relic held at the cathedral in order to lure pilgrims as sacrificial victims.
  • Assassin's Creed: Brotherhood has the main character Ezio against an evil organization called the Templars, many of which are officials of the Catholic Church. This fits with the Renaissance setting, as the Church was very corrupt at the time. The Big Bad of Brotherhood was actually a pope in the real world, and he was so corrupt that the next Pope outright stated he was going to Hell.
    • The Templars are the bad guys of the whole Assassin's Creed-franchise, not just Brotherhood. Also, their religious nature in the first game is largely a sham, and in the following games they barely even give it a lip service. Ofcourse the same also applies to their sworn enemies, the Assassins who in Real Life were an Ishmaelian sect of Muslims. The said Pope incidentally is the Big Bad of the second game, while in Brotherhood his son has taken the reins.
  • In the fan-made remake/re-imagining of King's Quest II, King Graham is helped by a group of sketchy but friendly monks. He finds out the hard way that, even though they keep up the pretense of running a monastery, long ago they had become a cult of murderous, black magic-practicing werewolves who are manipulating Graham in an attempt to destroy Count Caldaur, the one person on the island who can stop them.
  • While the Chantry of Andraste doesn't actively harass and mistreat Fereldians in Dragon Age (actually, it's quite nice and pleasant), it is the main reason behind many, many social and racial problems and wrongdoings in Thedas. Mages are feared, despised and held more or less prisoners because the Chant deems them Exclusively Evil and the church is certainly not afraid to launch an enslaving Excalted March upon some other race that tries to adopt the religion, since the priests see humans as a superior race because the Prophet Andraste was human. Not to mention, they ensure the Templars' loyalty by addictind them to Lyrium under the excuse, that it'll make them more powerful.
    • The inaction of the Grand Cleric of the Kirkwall Chantry in Dragon Age II to deal with the problems of mages and templars was seen by some as acceptance of the abuses that went on in both factions, and got to the point where Anders decided to remove even the chance of compromise by blowing up the Chantry, resulting in an all-out war between mages and templars.
    • It is, however, instructive to note that the Chantry position on mages is the moderate one in Thedas -- every other major state on the planet is either ruled by mages (Tevinter, the Dalish, etc.) or else represses their mages far more harshly (the Qun). Except for Orzammar, which sidesteps the entire problem by having no mages at all (because dwarves can't be mages). Furthermore, the Chantry's position on mages is originally a compromise position enacted immediately after Andraste's rebellion successfully overthrew Tevinter rule, as the popular sentiment at that time was for exterminating every mage-talented person everywhere.
  • The Messians in the first Shin Megami Tensei games. They are absolutely faithful to God and his archangels... which does not stop them from being a bunch of bastards.
  • The Scarlet Crusade of World of Warcraft was formed to protect the Light and destroy the undead plague upon the land. They took in people who had lost family to the Scourge and offered them a new life, battling their enemy. Unfortunately, its founders were charismatic and completely insane, so paranoia and fanaticism was the name of the game. Unless somebody wears their colors, they're automatically assumed infected with the plague and are killed on sight. What most likely ensured their fall into Corrupt Church status was their incorporation of the disgused demons Balnazzar and Mal'ganis as high-ranking officials. By the time they've reached Northrend to attack the Scourge, they're actually using demonic magic and thinking it's a blessing of the Light!
    • Most, if not all of the Scarlet Crusade, especially in the Eastern Plaguelands, have become the Risen.
  • In the King's Quest II Fan Remake, the church and its teachings aren't a problem. It's the fact the priest and monks have been corrupted into werewolves and gone insane that is the issue. Even their nemesis will point out that they are not the good clerics they once were.
  • Lodism in Tactics Ogre and Ogre Battle 64. Originally founded as a Crystal Dragon Jesus religion, by a Prince Lodis said to be the mortal son of the leader of the gods. The religion has been twisted into an oppressive system, enforcing a caste system and working to take control of the Lodis Empire (which became a theocracy after a coup engineered by the church).

Visual Novels

Web Original

  • In The Gamers Alliance, the Clergy of Mardük originally promoted freedom of choice but became twisted when its deity Mardük was consumed by madness. The Church of the Memory of Cardia, which originally promoted order and stability, has also been acting not-so-nobly lately as it persecutes and tortures anyone linked to either demons or the Clergy of Mardük.

Western Animation