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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 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.
Compare with the Cult and Church of Happyology. Contrast with the Saintly Church. Can potentially overlap with Church Militant, if the church is both evil and badass.
Whilst, there have been (many) corrupt clerics and callous doctrines throughout history, No Real Life Examples, Please! Every religion (or lack thereof) will have both defenders and detractors somewhere out there.
And remember - somewhere, your local deity is Face Palming.
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Anime and Manga
In many 90s anime, Buddhism is portrayed as this, as the result of some heavily publicised scandals in Japan at the time involving the financial misdeeds of major sects.
Not to mention that the whole thing is a cover for CIA Station Post.
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 they will also kill all English men, women, and children because they're all dirty heathens. This may seem like a "normal" act of zealotry 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 and swords led by Anderson, an Axe CrazyBlood Knight priest that kills zombies, vampires, and heathens alike. And don't forget the aformentioned mechanized army.
In regards to the Protestant side, the Anglican Church certainly counts as well. Their primary fighting force, the Hellsing Organization, employs an Eldritch Abomination as their trump card and unleashes him upon any monster or human that they view as a sufficient threat to the general populace of England. Very effective, of course, but Alucard can be even more homicidal and bloodthirsty than Anderson when Integra isn't exerting full control over him.
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: it's a perfect opportunity for Sinister Ministers and Naughty Nuns to misbehave.
The Wall Cult from Attack on Titan. They began as an oft-ignored group of zealots that worshiped the Walls as a divine gift, but rapidly gained influence and authority after the loss of Wall Maria. They oppose any and all efforts to strengthen the defenses of the remaining Walls, and advocate for the execution of Eren. Turns out these efforts are to prevent anyone from learning the truth about the Walls, including that they contain dormant Colossal Titans. How far the conspiracy extends, and just how much they know about the true origins of the Titans, remains a mystery.
The Church of the Light Spirit in Maoyuu Maou Yuusha is deliberately perpetuating the war in order to retain authority and undermine the southern kingdoms that are more difficult to control.
Hieronymus Bosch: In The Haywain everyone tries to get hay from a huge haywain, except for a fat priest to whom a group of nuns is actually bringing the stuff while he is just sitting in his chair lifting his glass. In The Garden of Earthy Delights the Hell painting shows a pig with a nun's headdress.
Francisco De Goya satirised the Spanish Inquisition in his work Inquisition, which shows people under trial. In Witches' Sabbath he shows Satan in the form of a goat presiding in silhouet and moonlight over a coven of disfigured, ugly and terrified witches.
A recurring X-Men villainous organisation are the Purifiers, a Corrupt Church founded on Fantastic Racism; the group literally believes mutants are the minions of Satan sent to conquer the Earth in his name, so they brutally seek out and murder any mutant or mutant sympathiser they can.
The Church of Humanity, an offshoot of the notorious anti-mutant hate group Friends of Humanity, also qualifies.
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 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 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...
Urbanus: The local priest is a buffoon who is often drunk from drinking his own sacramental wine and enjoys visiting the local whorehouse on the sly.
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.
Not quite as absurd as you might think, in the case of Germanus. While the example of Pelagius is a total slap in the face to history, men in Germanus' position—Roman Catholic Bishops of the time the film is set in—weren't above engaging in (by our modern standards) ruthless moves and chess-playing with the lives of men both powerful and influential (and thereby the lives of everyone beneath them or influenced by them) in their flock to ensure the church in the area they were Bishop of remained the sole ultimate authority. Granted, they were much more discreet and subtle in their machinations than Germanus ever was in the film, but much like the Pope of the time, the Bishops were equally ruthless political power-players. No act is too ill when you do it in the name of God, after all.
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 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!".
Their ultimate goal? To have a big enough miracle (powered by science, of course) to get classified as a religion, thus granting them a tax-free status.
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 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.
A major plot point of The Godfather Part III is that the Vatican Bank turns to Michael Corleone to bail them out of their deficit in exchange for business legitimacy. Michael also effectively buys a Church knighthood for $100,000,000.
In Ysengrimus Ysengrim the wolf is a greedy and easily led astray priest. He tells people: "Commit whatever sins you please: you will be absolved if you can pay." Near the end of the story his skin is stripped off and thrown to a pig.
In the Dutch/Flemish version, Van den Vos Reynaerde the local Catholic priest is married. One of his testicles is later bit off by Tybald the cat. His wife is highly disappointed by this and cries that she will have to miss their sweet game from now on. Reynart just jokes that the one remaining will be sufficient to keep on doing on it.
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.
In the novel Beyond, the church changes its doctrine to fit its political doctrine.
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 god Om himself. 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.
Sylvia Pittston, the preacher at the local church, gets the people of Tull to turn berserk and go after Roland in Stephen King's The Gunslinger. This is foreshadowed by Alice who says her religion is poison.
The institution of the Magisterium in 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. It is 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 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 Always Chaotic 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 a giveaway, there's religious imagery on the door Iorek smashes through. Its members wear priestly uniforms and speak of "heresy". It might be more sinister by not explaining why it's incompatible.
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.)
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.
Paul also admits to being forced to destroy and sterilize a number of resisting planets because it was necessary to avoid antagonizing his followers.
Kidnappings, forced conversions and marriages, and vigilantes hunting down and killing those who try to escape? Welcome to the Mormon Church, circa the Sherlock Holmes story "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.
“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 Redeemers are a cruel, corrupt religious order. They take the evils of the historical Catholic Church to the extreme and show no positive traits as a group aside from some traces of their "Messiah" (not very subtly, The Hanged Redeemer) actually having taught something quite different. The Antagonists, corresponding to the Protestants, are a splinter sect in war with them but might well be as bad; not much detail is revealed about them as of the second book.
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 inquisitorial 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 the Heralds of Valdemar series is a theocracy. At first everything was fine, but then it became corrupt, and stayed that way for close to a millennium until Vkandis Sunlord (also known by the Fan Nickname Vkandis the Unsubtle) decided to make his displeasure known, and a Bolt of Divine Retribution later, rearranged the Church.
The Church in the Bardic Voices series by Mercedes Lackey. While there are individual priests/monks/nuns that are truly good people (like High Bishop Ardis of Kingsford), there many more that are corrupt and venial and gain positions of power to further their own shady agendas (like High Bishop Padrik of Gradford).
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 does not adhere to fundamentalist theology along with other religions believing that their doctrines can be found somehow compatible with each other. It is considered the Book of Revelation's "the Whore of Babylon" personified and was dissolved with the death of its leader Pontifex Maximus Peter Mathews at the midpoint of the Tribulation.
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 the Mistborn trilogy are an odd example. Though nominally a priesthood, they function more as bureaucrats and politicians, being much more interested in administering The Empire and playing 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.
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.
Several examples in Marcus Pitcaithly's ''Hereward'' trilogy: Prior Herluin, Abbot Thorold, and Bishop Odo, among the most notable. (The Saintly Church has its representatives too, but not so many.)
Song at Dawn The Church of Nabornne operates more like a business than a salvation organization because it is more focused on money made than souls saved. Part of that business is the production of paper and knowledge of reading/writing and many of Dragonetz' subordinates are certain that the church will kill him for threatening that business with his private paper mill.
Benjamin Black's series of mysteries set in 1950s Ireland consistently represent the Roman Catholic Church as this. The protagonist, Quirke, grew up in an Orphanage of Fear run by the Christian Brothers, and the novels represent the Church's influence on Irish society as almost entirely negative.
The Rifter: The Payshmura both perverted religion and committed crimes against nature by tearing spacetime to use the Grey Space, killing the Rifter, creating issusha’im, and so on and exacted tithes that starved the population, imposed brutal laws, and supported social inequality. But their religion is represented as having a degree of truth to it, just greatly misused. There are also characters who provide examples of how it might go right, like Samsango, a simple man who lives in the spirit of the smiling, benign aspects of Parfir, or notably the unshakable faith of Ravishan/Kyle.
Thomas Cromwell views the Catholic Church as this in Wolf Hall.
The Rus church in the first novel of William R. Forstchen's The Last Regiment series appears to be a mix of the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Old Slavic pagan beliefs. The priesthood, especially the head of the church Rasnar, schemes of restoring his church to the power it once held over both the boyars and the Rus people. He convinces Boyar Ivor's bastard brother Mikhail to try to kill his brother and take control over the city-state of Suzdal. The attempt fails thanks to the 35th Maine, but Kasmar's fellow priests in neighboring city-states stage an attack and capture two Yankee soldiers. They are then tortured by a priest for information on the use of muskets, with the priest shooting one of them in the head just to test the weapon. By the end of the novel, Rasnar and many of his priests are either dead or stripped of their position. Instead, Rasnar's Number Two Kasmar, who has always believed that the church should serve the people not the other way around, becomes the head of the church and frequently puts on the black robes of a simple priest, only donning the gold robes of his position for grand announcements.
In The Laundry Series, religious people trying to contact God have been known to contact ... a different God entirely, and this trope happens when they willfully fail to notice the difference. The Apocalypse Codex, in addition to the televanglist cult that forms the Big Bad of the novel which thinks mind-control parasites count as "conversion" and is trying to wake the Sleeper in the Pyramid in the belief he's Jesus, there is also mention of a Calvanist sect in the Scottish islands that believed "Elect of God" was synonymous with Deep Ones.
Evangelical Christianity in America is this in Christian Nation as they slowly take control of the government, going so far as to abolish the separation of church and state and declaring a "holy war" on the last holdouts of American democracy and freedom, eventually calling themselves Church Of God in America. They also use surveillance technology such as the Purity Web to keep tabs on the populace in the hopes of keeping them under their control.
The Trinitian Church in Daybreak On Hyperion is pretty complicit in helping to undermine kingdoms that share the same faith to bolster the ambitions of the Imperium.
During the eponymous World War Z, the Russian Orthodox Church took over the job of executing infected, as the officers, especially those who had gone through the decimations, often found themselves pushed over the edge by having to kill their men — or got decimated themselves. Eventually, either the church started abusing its power or the government took control of it; either way, Russia ends up as a totalitarian theocracy.
Zig-zagged in No Good Deed... Farther Garnerius, the Abbot of Friuli Abbey, has been playing politics behind the scenes to increase his influence against the Prince-Bishop of Bremen. However, Father Ehrhart of Alsfeld Monasery expresses his disdain for members of the clergy who abuse their positions.
Brother Justin Crowe, in the HBO series Carnivąle 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.
This is more like a Church of Saint Genericus, as he is shown giving communion on the tongue Catholic style. (And is obviously modeled on Father Coughlin, the Catholic "radio priest" of the era.)
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.
Subverted by Reverend Kingston Tanner in The Following. He's a wealthy Southern televangelist who runs a megachurch and uses Joe Carroll's latest rampage as a publicity stunt, but he's ultimately shown to be a good (if flawed) man who truly does believe in God, loves his family and finally dies by Heroic Sacrifice.
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.
The Tudors has a rare reconstruction of this in Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. Venal? Check. Ambitious? Check. Very lax in his own religious observance? Check. But also very, very good in what he does. It's quite clear that the religious dressing of his office is just that; he has his job because he's the best. Very much Truth In Television, too.
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 Queensr˙che's Operation: Mindcrime.
Motorhead's God Was Never On Your Side "They claim to heal, but all they do is steal, ABUSE YOUR faith, cheat, and ROB"
Ozzy Osbourne, "Miracle Man". Both this song and Iron Maiden's one reference disgraced televangelist Jimmy Swaggart.
Skid Row has a song from their second album, Slave to the Grind, entitled "Livin' on a Chain Gang." It contains the following verse:
A conman's intuition can wash your sins away.
Send your contribution; he'll save your soul today.
What does he know? Has he been through hell and back?
He takes the cash, and he drives it home in a brand-new Cadillac.
In the Magic: The Gathering plane of Ravnica, two of the guilds, the Orzhov (a pontiff of which is pictured in the page image) and Selesnya very much apply. The former started off as an ancestor venerating religion honoring traditions, and the latter as a religious commune intending to create peace and unity. Now, the former's the epitome of an evil, corrupt church so much that they practically worship money more than anything else, while the latter are a brainwashing cult that takes care of dissenters with their "quietmen" and makes the population submissive via their Conclave Song. Nonetheless, there's still a relatively nuanced portrayal of both guilds, with heroic characters in both.
The Imperium of Man's Ecclesiarchy and to a lesser extent the Cult Mechanicus in Warhammer 40,000 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,farworse.
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 favor when it executes you for dabbling in things you were not meant to know of.
Even with all of that in mind, some elements of the Ecclesiarchy (and possibly the Mechanicus) are corrupt in the more conventional sense. Excessive tithes are just the beginning, along with some of the stuff real-life clergymen have been accused of indulging in, despite their vows and planet's laws.
The Lawful Neutral/Lawful Good god Pholtus, also 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."
The churches of the gods Helm and Torm in the Forgotten Realms had both become corrupted before 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.
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.
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 Selūne who were responsible for making his life a living hell as a child.
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. 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.
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 Ministry of Paternoster from Mage: The Awakening somehow straddles the line between Path of Inspiration and this trope. On the one hand, the Seers of the Throne did set it up in an effort to make organized religion heavily dogmatic, so that Sleepers would be discouraged from picking at the strands of the Fallen World. On the other hand, they bought all their own hype and do believe the Exarchs should be worshiped as divine emanations; it's just they believe the Sleepers should also be kept ignorant and blind, and that a Sleeper worshiping one of the Exarchs would be the utmost in profanity.
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.
Cardinal Wolsey is portrayed as corrupt and venal in Shakespeare and Fletcher's Henry VIII.
In general, this has become something of a chestnut for JRPGs; thanks to the view many Japanese take of heavily organized, regimented religion being a foreign concept, if a church is like that in a game, there's a pretty good chance part or all of it will be evil. It is, at this point, seen as a fairly worn-out trope.
One of the oldest example in video game history, Lunar: Eternal Blue features Lucia, who is related to goddess Athena somehow, a NPC who is still an active part of the player's party even in combat, who seeks the help of Athena's church for assistance to defeat an evil reborn enemy Zophar to whom Athena was his sole equal in combat. However, she finds out late in game that Zophar had already long subverted the entire church of Athena that was originally dedicated to Athena into a cult that is secretly on the forefront of reviving him to full power. Essentially a variant where the setting's version of Satan has taken control of his rival's own church and using it against said Goddess.
In Breath of Fire II, the old Dragon God religion has been supplemented by an ecclesiastical movement called the Church of St. Eva. (Funnily, the talking Dragon idols that save your game actually grouse about this.) What's unusual is the Church's helpfulness during the early stages of the game: in fact, the hero was raised in a church, the son of a priest. The mysterious "St. Eva" is Father Evans a.k.a. Deathevan, a secret kept guarded from all but the truest believers ala Scientology. Not all of the church's agents are evil, just misguided.
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.
The Founders' religion with its leader "Father" Zachary Comstock in BioShock Infinite. It's built on lies and slander every prophecy is revealed to be powered by quantum physics, every racist slander is an excuse for the founders to justify their own criminal acts against minorities, with Comstock as Crystal Dragon Jesus. Unfortunately, Comstock is senile and now believes in his own religion, up to the "burn the world" part.
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. They're actually working together.
In Earthbound, Happy-Happyism seems to exist only to enable a leader to abuse the power of the Mani Mani Statue, which eventually ends up enabling Pokey.
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.
Unitology was built from the ground up to be a Path of Inspiration. By Earth Gov. Unfortunately, with all the various sects arguing about what they stand for, there's no control from the Earth Gov anymore and the most insane sects now have access to the most dangerous biological hunters in the galaxy. Which pretty much ends the series on a downer note.
In the 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.
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 church is hypocritical as well. They heavily use machines while telling their followers that using machines is highly sacrilegious. This is done out of fear that people may discard the teachings of the church and are able to find a way to kill Sin off for good, which would make the entire church collapse. This is why the Al-Bhed are viewed as the enemy by the people worldwide.
Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: Ring of Fates: The Crystal Temple gets progressively more oppressive over the course of the game and is responsible for all the bad things that happen to Yuri and Chelinka. It probably wasn't always corrupt, but now it's run by the Big Bad.
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 from Diablo II and the Crusaders from Diablo III are still divinely-empowered guardians, but everyone else became Mephisto's pawns.
The Templar Order of Diablo IIItortures and brainwashes new recruits into believing that they used to be criminals and sinners, and have been cleansed so that they can fight for the powers of good. In the Reaper of Souls quest The Templar's Reckoning, it's revealed that the corruption of the order goes straight to the top — and that the Grand Maester of the order plans to do this to every citizen of Westmarch and beyond to make them Templars.
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.
Tales of Symphonia: The Tethe'allan branch of the Church of Martel. 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.
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 Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind has the Tribunal Temple, a Dunmer church whose members worship three living flesh-and-blood gods. Curiously, the Temple used to be an undeniable force of good when the Tribunal deities consistently lived and worked amongst their people; performing acts of charity and defending Morrowind from Imperial, Akaviri, and Daedric invaders. However, once they retreated into seclusion due to no longer being able to recharge their divine power with the Heart of Lorkhan and being forced to conserve their power, the mortals took over running the church and things became corrupt very quickly. Now, most of its members are stuck-up, elitist jerkasses, especially the high ranking officials, and their elite guard are arrogant, condescending fanatical bigots who consider even speaking of the Nerevarine or wearing their armor to be capitol offenses.
The Church of EZI from the PS3 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 has 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. 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. It is also even revealed that Templars know there is no religion but use religion as a tool to control the masses. Of course 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.
It doesn't help that the Borgias were particularly active in the Renaissance-era Church. With Rodrigo Borgia/Pope Alexander being a Big Bad in Ezio's arc.
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 wrong-doings throughout Thedas. Due to the fear of Blood Magic, nearly all Mages are to be feared and despised, leading them to be rounded up and imprisoned in the Circle, supposedly for their own protection. Elves are often seen as second-class citizens and forced to live in Alienages, where they are subject to much racism from humans. The Chantry likewise repaid the Dalish Elves assistance in helping Andraste free Thedas from the Tevinter Imperium, by later branding them heretics for not worshipping the Maker and leading an Exalted March against their new homeland, reducing them to wandering nomads. Not to mention, the Chantry's method of ensuring theTemplars' remain loyal is to addict them to Lyrium under the excuse that it'll make them more powerful, despite knowing that it can lead to paranoia, emotional instability and full-blown psychosis.
Despite being a Big Good in Kirkwall, the inaction of the Grand Cleric 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. Likewise, her lack of action towards some of her fanatical underlings and their crusade against the Qunari led to the city being attacked and the Viscount being killed, leading to a major power vacuum that destabilised Kirkwall further, setting up the Mage-Templar explosion.
It should be noted however that this is not so much corruption as cowardice on the part of the Grand Cleric herself as an individual who just didn't feel up for the politics. Furthermore, it doesn't really help that virtually every mage encountered in the series have a nasty tendency to prove the Chantry right about hating and fearing blood magic by willing to use it when the chips are down almost to a man and summon demons, even when it's a clear case of Then Let Me Be Evil.
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.
Lodism in Tactics Ogre and OgreBattle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber. 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).
The Bardus Church, from The Legend of Heroes IV: A Tear of Vermillion. It becomes clear that the church is a good church. However, for a great chunk of the game, you're dealing with a very corrupt Church Official that you might think that the Bardus Church is really corrupt. In game, NPCs do see this church as corrupt due to Abbot Avarice's greed. This is also part of the reason the Octum Apostles formed in the first place.
The Kiseki Series, born from Legend of Heroes VI: Trails in the Sky, meanwhile, is actually notable for just how hard it averts this trope in comparison to its genre. The Septian Church is unabashedly a force for good, and the vast, vast majority of its clergy are true believers and wish to contribute positively to their communities, and the Church even aids the hero party in First Chapter, and a clergyman is a playable character in the Second Chapter.
In Dishonored Ever since the death of the empress, the Overseers from the Abbey of the Everyman seems have become corrupted, pretty much enacting martial law and rounding up anyone that might be thought as heretics. The High Overseer intentionally breaks everyone of the seven strictures every day as his own little joke.
Subverted in Tales of the Abyss, where the main villains are the Church Militant. As it turns out, however, they're just one of two factions that are warring for power: one of which is led by a Fat Bastard who wants to start a war Because Destiny Says So, while the leader of the other is the actual Pope equivalent who just wants to bring peace and harmony to the world. Further subverted when it's revealed that the Church Militant is actually working against the wishes of the religion as a whole by aiming to destroy the local deity.
The Church in Darklands is not corrupt, but is a rather mercantile enterprise, and expects sizeable "donations" for any services rendered. However, village priests are generally decent and hedge-priests and self-proclaimed "holy men" are far more likely to be mercenary and corrupt than "true" Church officials.
The mysterious Church in Mica: Apoptosis is led by a Cardinal who kidnaps and presumably tortures a teenage girl, and shoots a constable who thought of him as a friend.
The world of Demon Fist is controlled by a Church which thinks little of obliterating towns for even minor rebellions, and in particular is interested in the protagonist to duplicate his fusion of human and demon for their own use
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.
The Simpsons: Reverend Lovejoy is always judgemental towards everybody, yet at the same time he doesn't always seem to know or care that much about what's in the Bible and Ned Flanders, his most devout follower, irritates him more than that he supports him. Lovejoy is also clearly Only in It for the Money as he is most intent in letting the collection plate pass around. There have also been many times he loses his faith in times of crises and in the face of his local church community, only to quickly get back to his former self when everything returns to normal.
He was once a genuinely good reverend with strong faith, but Ned's constant questions ended ip beating it out of him.
For a milder version, Polly Harrington practically runs the church in the Disney version of Pollyanna. She meets with Reverend Ford to plan out his sermons, and he always declines to take sides against her, even when he disagrees with her. Eventually, though, the whole town, including Reverend Ford learns to stand up to her, and she makes a Heel-Face Turn.