Nepotism is a word invented in ecclesiastical language to express a peculiar characteristic of many high ecclesiastics in Roman Catholic countries, and more particularly of popes, a propensity, namely, to aggrandize their family by exorbitant grants and favors conferred on members of it; literally on nephews (Latin nepotes). Many of the highest and wealthiest families of the Roman nobility owe their elevation entirely to this species of patronage.
Nepotism was first practiced, and that to a very considerable degree, by pope Nicholas III (q.v.), towards the close of the 13th century; reproachfully he was called the patriarch of papal nepotism. In the 15th century it found most prominent practice under Sixtus IV (q.v.), and he may be said to have carried nepotism to its highest pitch, and to have given rise to much scandal in the Romish Church. Alexander VI (q.v.) is only second to the preceding pope (see Butler, Eccles. Hist. 2:129, 132; Fisher, Hist. of the Ref. Page 45). Alexander V had no relations on whom to lavish his friendship, but he found an opportunity to practice nepotism towards the order to which be belonged prior to his elevation to the papacy. As early as the 16th century strong efforts were made to stay this evil practice. Pope Pius IV and his successors labored for this end. But nepotism was not successfully circumscribed until the 17th century by popes Innocent XI and XII, the latter of whom subjected, by a bull under date of July 28, 1692, all cardinals to an oath against the practice of nepotism. See Leti, II Nepotismo di Roma (Amst. 1667; in Latin, entitled Nepot. Rom. [Stuttg. 1669]); Ranke, Hist. of the Papacy; Ffoulkes, Divisions of Christendom, 1:561; Milman, Hist. of Latin Christianity, 6:141, 530; 7:272, 302; 8:171; Cartwright, On Papal Conclaves, pages 180-183; Wessenberg, Gesch. der Kirchenversammlungen (see Index in volume 4).