Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Pope Joan?

I recently had an inquiry regarding a so-called "Pope Joan". This comes up from time to time from various sources not friendly to the idea of the papacy whether it is from a Mormon source such as Peter and the Popes (BYU Press) or a liberal Catholic source wishing to promote female ordinations (though even liberal Catholic poster child Dick McBrien calles it a "legend" in his _Lives of the Popes_. If not even Tricky Dick McBrien is willing to make use of this legend, that ought to tell you something).

The short version of the story is that there's nothing to it. The bottom line is that there is "no contemporary evidence for a female pope at any of the dates suggested for her reign," and goes on to say that "the known facts of the respective periods make it impossible to fit [a female pope] in."

Oxford Dictionary of Popes, 1988, page 329, ISBN 0192820850

Yet it keeps coming up. Why? It's relevant to note that Popess Joan makes a brief cameo in the Da Vinci code. The way these things work is to show lots of pictures of stuff that really exists. Their really are the episcopal thrones with holes in the seats, there really are weird routes in papal processions, some Medieval writers did speak of a "Pope Joan". Conspiracy theories make their living by being kooky explanations of *real* facts.

You can read more about the Legend of Pope Joan here:

Catholic Encyclopedia Article
Wikipedia Article
Full Text of _The Female Pope: The Mystery of Pope Joan

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