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the pope who oped
Or, the Wisconsin Antipope, because bitches love schisms
Thanks for joining me for another biweekly(ish) installment of the goofiest tales history has to offer. I'm grateful for each and every subscriber, because if you weren't here, I'd just be telling these weird stories to my sister's dog, and I'm not convinced he has the historical context necessary to appreciate them.
It's a hot summer day in the Midwest today, which means we're going to chat about something that's as Midwestern as cornhole, ranch dressing, and saying "cow" every time you drive past a cow on the highway:
"Now, Allison," you say. "I'm no papal historian, but last I checked, the Pope lived...not in the Midwest."
And you'd be absolutely right, friends, were it not for the subject of today's newsletter:
The Wisconsin Farmer Who Tried To Convince Everyone He Was The Real Pope
The subject of that delightful sentence is a man named Earl Pulvermacher, who was born in 1918 in a town called Rock, Wisconsin.
Apparently there wasn't much to do in Rock, because Earl hightailed it out of there relatively quickly and became a Capuchin priest. The priesthood took him to various international locales, including Okinawa, Japan and Queensland, Australia.
By all accounts, he was a reasonably OK priest, as far as things go. He took the religious name Lucien shortly after his ordination, which means his name was Lucien Pulvermacher, in case you thought it couldn't get more impressive.
Everything was progressing in classic priest fashion, up until 1965, when something happened called—say it with me now, Catholics and Catholic-adjacents...
I think of the Second Vatican Council as the Catholic Church's roughly-once-a-century staff meeting. Basically, the Church met to discuss its relationship with the secular world and what it meant to be Catholic. You know, like those leadership meetings your company has, after which they come out and tell you they're redoing the sick leave policy? Like that, but with more God.
I don't understand most of what was decided at Vatican II, because I am, to all intents and purposes, a heathen. But generally, several of the changes made the Church more modern: less Latin, slightly different prayers, probably some doctrinal shifts I'm sure my mom could explain in great detail if I asked her.
Here's the fun thing about the history of religion, though. It doesn't matter how big the change is. If there is any change at all, someone somewhere will use it as an excuse for a schism.
Crossing yourself with a different number of fingers? Schism. Can't agree about yeast? Schism. Pope piss you off personally? Schism.
Basically, some traditionalist Catholics believed that because 2 Vatican 2 Furious was heresy, nothing the Catholic Church did after it would be legitimate. And our friend Lucian Pulvermacher was one such Catholic.
At first, he was content to hook up with the Society of Saint Pius X, a sort of international Anti-Vatican-II fan club trying to get things back to the way they were. But to Lucian's evident disappointment, the SSPX wasn't really all that radical. It was schisming, sure, but, like, Diet Schism. It wasn't going to go crazy or anything.
And if there was one thing Lucian was ready to do, it was "go crazy or anything."
So what does our friend do, you ask? Well, eventually, he opes on over to Montana, where he—wait for it—just happens across a group of rogue schismatic Catholics wandering through the plains of Montana or whatever looking for a pope. As you do.
Here's how I imagine that interaction went down:
Lucian: what's up, friends? done any good schisming lately?
Montana Man 1: oh, you bet. we're about to form a conclave.
Lucian: a conclave? like, the thing where you elect a pope?
Montana Man 1: the very thing.
Montana Man 2: do you know anyone who might make a good pope?
Lucian: you mean...besides Pope John Paul II.
Montana Man 2: yes obviously besides him.
Shortly after this, the Deeply Illegitimate Montana Conclave of Rogue Wandering Schismatics put the matter to a vote, and sure enough, Lucian Pulvermacher was "elected" Pope Pius XIII in 1998.
Now, the question I'm sure you're all asking: was Pope Pius XIII any good as a pope?
The answer, if you were to ask Actual Pope At The Time John Paul II: uh, no.
But if you only asked the Late 90s and Early 2000s Deeply Illegitimate Montana Conclave of Rogue Wandering Schismatics, sure, he didn't do too bad! He more or less spent his time appointing totally illegitimate cardinals, writing encyclicals, and putting the liturgy back to the way it was.
Groundbreaking? Maybe not. But we've definitely had worse popes in this newsletter.
Fake Pope Pius XIII passed away in 2009 in Washington state at the age of 91. To put this in context, there existed an antipope who almost definitely knew who Lady Gaga is. As a pope enthusiast, that makes me happy.
Fun bonus fact: If you think you've heard the name "Pope Pius XIII" before, you probably have. It's the name HBO gave to Jude Law's character on the absolutely bananas, short-lived TV series The Young Pope. The historical Pope Pius XIII, however, did not a) own a kangaroo, b) drink Cherry Coke Zero, or c) flash his naked butt around on a premium streaming service, as far as any of my sources are aware.
I have...no particular updates this go-round! A Tip for the Hangman is still out in the world, and I am still delighted every time it connects with a reader who enjoys it. I've also Zoomed into a few book clubs lately to chat about ATFTH, which has been great fun. I'd love to come to yours, too—just reach out through my website or tweet at me.
Other than that, I have a cat now, so I am morally obligated to share a photo. Her name is Mina, after Mina Harker: little, sweet, will spontaneously bite without warning and then pretend she didn't just try to murder you. She is a perfect tiny 8-year-old bean and I love her.
Until next time, follow your truth, live your dreams, become antipope if the spirit moves you,