A Tale of Two Popes
One of my favourite blogs is the lesser known Abbey Roads, written by Terry Nelson. He always has an interesting and balanced perspective and often raises points I haven’t considered. A couple of days ago he posted an article which brought my attention to ‘Pope Michael’… Pope Michael of Delia, Kansas.
Terry’s reference led me to a free, online documentary about ‘Pope Michael’ and his purported papacy. As ‘Pope Michael’, who is actually David Bawden, explains:
“I knew a few other people who agreed with me that John Paul the second wasn’t pope, and I started contacting them about the possibility of papal election. In fact, several of them had already discussed it prior to my becoming convinced it was necessary, and we exchanged information and ideas and looked into the laws and doctrines of the Catholic Church and determined how an election could be convened.”
The outcome of the ‘conclave’ that resulted was the election of David Bawden as Pope Michael in 1990.
Unlike the anti-popes of yesteryear, who primarily struggled to reign in the political power of the papal states, sedevacantists believe that, as a consequence of Vatican Council II, there hasn’t been a valid Pope since Pope Pius XII. Sedevcantists claim a primacy in their personal opinions as what constitutes proper piety and devotional practice. They reflect a deep pride of self in which they have placed their personal belief as to how the Church ought to have grown above how the Holy Spirit has actually guided the Church. I can attest that it’s intellectually maddening to confront this mindset in a friend (I’ve known a few, thankfully former, sedevacantists), but when I stepped back to reflect on the situation my frustration with their reasoning has always been displaced by a sadness for their loss.
Watching the ‘Pope Michael’ documentary, I couldn’t help but feel such sadness for David Bawden. Far from casting an imposing figure, the documentary contains a scene of him sharing tea with his mother, with whom he still lives. He appears mild mannered and soft-spoken, surprising for the public role which he sought to assume (even if his followers are likely only numbered in the hundreds, if not less). While one would naturally be inclined to speculate that traits of anger and harshness would likely accompany a man who had placed himself in such stark opposition to the Catholic Church, David Bowden (unlike Michael Voris) actually seems like a kind man. I didn’t perceive in him any malintent, only tragically misguided discontent that the Church didn’t grow as he wanted it to. Above all, his love for God doesn’t seem contrived or false. Watching him and listening to his words, I believe his intention is to sincerely love God as he sees Him.
Sadly, David Bawden does suffer for a disordered self-confidence in his own limited understanding of Jesus’ universal relationship with His people as manifested through His true Church. When confronted by the incongruence of where he felt the Church should have gone and where It went, he choose to give preference to self rather than allow himself to guided by the eyes of faith.
While we don’t often encounter sedevacantists in our midst, the true papacy of Pope Francis has seen widespread dissidence amongst Catholics, particularly amongst those who would probably consider themselves amongst the most faithful.
Criticism of Francis’ encyclical Amoris Laetitia has been particularly pronounced. I personally have had many conversations with educated, intelligent Catholics who have expressed grave reservation about the document. When I’ve asked these same people if they’ve read the entire text, only one has said that he has. Most criticisms are scattered, based on snippets, extracts and media-fed one liners. It is worthwhile asking the question: “who are we judge” the direction which Pope Francis is taking the Church if we only look at one-liners from interviews, don’t delve deeper into the context of statements and fail to avail of the many faithful news sources which reveal a more complete picture of Francis’ papacy.
‘Faithful’ is derived from the Latin fides, fidere, which means trust, confidence, reliance. In showing a lack of confidence that the Holy Spirit chose well with the election of Francis and by instead relying on personal beliefs as to the direction the Papacy ought to go, the faithful aren’t proving their faith. They are jeopardising it. Yet I know the genuineness of love which many of Francis’ detractor’s have for God. I have witnessed their sincere acts of piety and devotion. I believe that they want to love God as fully and deeply as they are capable, indeed with their whole hearts. And most importantly, even in disagreement, they haven’t let pride obstruct their vision of Church so as to take themselves outside of it.
There are many paths we can follow, many beliefs we can hold. We can’t make ourselves pope. God has given us but one sure path and that is the Holy Catholic Church. If we follow Her we will still face difficulties and crosses, but in faithfulness to the Church we can overcome them with greater ease and joy. We are assured by Jesus that the gates of hell will not prevail against His true Church and so we must trust His words and allow ourselves to be led by the shepherd He chose to appoint: Pope Francis.
I pray that the tragedy of David Bawden serves as a warning that even the most sincere and genuine follower can be misled. Please pray for David and his conversion and offer your next Mass for him.
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