Stranger than fiction

Friday 13 March 2015 — Homeport: Falmouth Harbor — Jerry Springer’s birthday

You know me, dear readers. I’m a great fan of obscure historical trivia. Did I mention that this winter, with all the bad weather, I came down with a severe case of cabin fever? To relieve the boredom, I spent much time diligently researching completely useless information. You never know when you’re going to need it.

Let’s play “Wheel of Misfortune” and I’ll show you what I mean. The category today is “modern antipopes.” These are pretenders to the papal throne. In order to have an antipope, you must first have a valid pope. In order to have a valid pope, you need to have one properly elected by the members of the College of Cardinals.

Allow me to put the whole matter into context. Pope Francis is the 266th pope, not counting 37 papal pretenders throughout the 2,000-year history of the Catholic Church. The last antipope, according to the official list, was Felix V in 1449.

In modern times, however, we seem to have had more people claiming to be “pope” than Planters has peanuts. Vanna, spin the wheel!

Clemente Dominguez y Gomez was born (the same year I was) in Seville, Spain. He promulgated a conspiracy theory that Pope Paul VI had been drugged, kidnapped, and imprisoned. According to him, the pope was replaced by a look-alike imposter. (Isn’t plastic surgery amazing?) Gomez founded a bogus religious group called the “Order of the Holy Face.” He also claimed Marian apparitions. 

With the death of Pope Paul VI in 1978, Gomez declared himself “Pope Gregory XVII.” While he was at it, he was also crowned “emperor.” One might as well go for the whole enchilada, he figured. His “papacy” ended with his death in 2005. His break-away Palmarian Catholic Church chose Manuel Alonso Corral (“Pope Peter II”) as his successor. Who replaced Gomez as emperor, I have no idea. 

Manual died in 2011 and was succeeded by Gines Hernandez y Martinez (Sergio María, in religion) also known as Gregory XVIII. But now it gets strange. Martinez has already named his own successor, either Joseph Odermatt of Switzerland or Eliseo María of Spain. As of this writing, the “pope” has yet to make up his mind.

You have never heard of any of these antipopes? Why am I not surprised? I assure you I am not making this up. My research proves it.

There is also a little-known history of antipopes in North America. The United States in particular is, strange to say, a producer of fake “popes.”

First among the modern counterfeit popes is Michael Collin, a Canadian. In 1951, he declared himself “Clement XV” and set up headquarters in the village of St. Jovite, Quebec (not to be confused with Dave Jolivet, our worthy editor). Among Michael’s few supporters were the members of a Danish U.F.O. club. Collin predicted the world would end on Feb. 20, 1969 then promptly retired from the “papacy.” The date came and went, as did Michael Collin. He died in 1974. Well, we all make mistakes but some make bigger mistakes than others. 

Collin’s successor was a certain Gaston Tremblay (“Pope Gregory XVII”) who took office in 1968. (Gaston is, I suspect, no relation to our own Father Marc Tremblay.) When Gaston died in 2011, the office was assumed by a man named Michel Lavallée. 

If none of these eccentric people inspire you, there’s always “Pope Peter II” — no, not the one mentioned above but another. There are actually several pretenders by this name. I’m talking about Chester Olszewski of Pennsylvania. He declared himself “pope” in 1980. “Is the pope Catholic?” Not in this case. Chester was actually a defrocked Episcopalian. 

How about “Gregory XIX” also known as Reinaldo Benjamins (who maintained he was crowned “pope” by a choir of angels in 1983) or “Hadrian VII,” legally named Francis Schuckardt (who declared himself “pope” in 1983) or Earl Pulvermarcher? The latter was “elected pope” in 1989 in a Montana farmhouse by a small group of disenfranchised Catholics. To announce the papal election to the world, they even released white smoke. Nobody noticed the smoke. Unfazed, “Pope Pius XIII” reigned from his church headquarters in Springdale, Wash., until his death in 2009. 

The most interesting modern antipope, in my opinion, is David Bawden of Kansas, who was elected “Pope Michael” in 1990 by a group of five people, including himself, his parents, and a couple of friends. The election took place in a vacant storefront. The friends soon took off and formed yet another sect. “Pope Michael” is media savvy. He uses social media. He has released a full-length documentary on himself and his loyal “seminarian.” The documentary was produced by his own film company. I felt sad when I watched the film. Religious people get themselves into such ridiculous situations. 

That’s it for tonight’s episode of “Wheel of Misfortune.” (I settled on the word “misfortune” because Wheel of Fortune is ©2015 Califon Productions, Inc.)

Now it’s back to my esoteric research. When will this long winter ever end?

Anchor columnist Father Goldrick is pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Falmouth.

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