Andrew Brown, writing in the Guardian, says that dissatisfaction with pope Francis’s moves to make the Catholic Church less overtly hostile to gays and divorced people while not actually changing doctrine has caused consternation among traditionalists because what’s the fun in viewing some practice as sinful if you cannot shun the sinners and also condemn them to a lifetime of torment in hell?
These people are issuing dark hints that Francis may be an anti-pope and are warning that he could trigger a schism and that this may be his real intent with these gestures towards a kinder, gentler church. I have of course heard about the anti-Christ (it’s Barack Obama) but had not realized that there are also anti-popes. It turns out that in the history of the Catholic church, of the 266 popes, 37 have been anti-popes.
So what makes an anti-pope? According to the Encyclopedia Britannica:
Antipope, in the Roman Catholic church, one who opposes the legitimately elected bishop of Rome, endeavours to secure the papal throne, and to some degree succeeds materially in the attempt. This abstract definition is necessarily broad and does not reckon with the complexity of individual cases. The elections of several antipopes are greatly obscured by incomplete or biased records, and at times even their contemporaries could not decide who was the true pope. It is impossible, therefore, to establish an absolutely definitive list of antipopes, but it is generally conceded that there were at least 37 from 217 to 1439.
I wondered what horrible acts these people had done to make them worthy of the title of anti-pope but a cursory look through some of their biographies reveals nothing but involvement with political struggles, common at the time. One odd bit of information was that one of the anti-popes was John XXIII (1410-1415 CE). I had been under the impression that a pope’s name was retired after his reign ended and was not to be used again, like that of major sports stars’ numbers. Since the last ‘good’ pope was also called John XXIII (1958-1963), I wondered if anti-popery meant that you did not really count and so the next person took your number.
So why might current traditionalists view Francis as an antipope, considering that he won easily in a seemingly free and fair election within that close-knit hierarchy and not as a result of a power struggle that casts doubt on his legitimacy? According to Brown:
This is a fascinating nudge in the direction of an established strain of conservative fringe belief: that liberalising popes are not in fact real popes, but imposters, sent by the devil. The explanation has an attractively deranged logic: if the pope is always right, as traditionalists would like to believe, and if this particular pope is clearly wrong, as traditionalists also believe, then obviously this pope is not the real pope.
Traditionalists view the doctrines against homosexuality and divorce as biblically unequivocal and thus rock solid and any attempt to change them will likely trigger a revolt.
Of course, for some traditionalists, even the current pope’s two conservative predecessors John Paul II and Benedict XVI were too liberal and thus anti-popes. The folks over at The Thinking Housewife, already feeling besieged by the changing mores on gender, sexuality, feminism, racism, and secularism, cannot even bring themselves to refer to Francis as the pope, referring to him by his street name of Jorge Bergoglio or, even more contemptuously, as just Jorge. I predict that they will be in the vanguard of those walking out if a schism should occur, along with those with creationist beliefs who are outraged with his acceptance of evolution and the big bang.
But I doubt any serious schism occurring. The church is a business and many people make a good living out of it and will thus grumble but stay put. It is only the true believers who will leave.
But what with the anti-Christ and an anti-pope both in office simultaneously, and a rotten film starring Nicholas Cage based on the Left Behind books just released (it got a 2% Rotten Tomatoes rating), verily I say unto you, these are surely signs that the End Times are near.
Prepare for the Rapture, baby!