Papacy by the Numbers

by Vicki Garlock on March 28, 2014

Papal Flag

Flag of the Papal States
Wiki Commons: Tibetan Pop Rocks

Pope Francis had another busy week in the news. First, he met President Obama for the first time. They met at the Vatican and exchanged gifts. President Obama brought seeds held in a box constructed of wood from the U.S.’s first cathedral. Obama also promised to donate produce from additional seeds to the Pope’s charity of choice. The Pope, in turn, gave Obama two medallions and a copy of his book, Joy of Gospels. There are several points on which Pope Francis and Obama disagree, but by all accounts the meeting was friendly. It’s rather hard to imagine the two of them screaming at each other, after all. The President reported that their conversation focused on reducing human trafficking around the globe and helping the poor – things on which they could obviously both agree.

Pope Francis also replaced the German bishop, commonly known in the media as the “bishop of bling,” this week. Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz-van Elst had been temporarily expelled pending an investigation into his ministry. It was finally decided that he could no longer effectively serve the church as the bishop of Limburg, so the Pope officially accepted the Monsignor’s resignation, which had been offered many months ago. His replacement is Monsignor Manfred Grothe, an auxiliary bishop in Paderborn. As scandals go, spending a lot of money on a home is not as bad as other things we can all think of, but $43 million is bit hard to ignore.

The “bishop of bling” story, coupled with Pope Benedict’s resignation a little over a year ago, got me wondering about the history of the Papacy. The Catholic Church has been around so long that it’s difficult to get firm numbers for anything, but hopefully, these figures will give you a bit of insight into one of the most visible, and long-standing, jobs on earth.

5: The number of popes who have resigned

Pope Benedict, who resigned on Feb. 28, 2013, was the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Although Pope Benedict’s resignation was unambiguous, the same can’t be said for all the others. A few additional popes might have resigned, and there were clearly a few popes who were forcibly deposed.

13: The number of days in the shortest papal reign in history

Pope Urban VII was pope from September 15-September 27, 1590. He died of malaria before his coronation. Papal coronations literally involved donning a crown until 1963 when Pope Paul VI refused to wear the tiara. That move effectively ended the practice of papal coronation ceremonies.

3: The longest number of years without a Pope

From 1268-1271, there was no pope in Rome because the cardinals could not come to a decision. The process began in 1268 with 20 cardinal-electors. Three cardinals died during the ensuing years and one resigned. A compromise decision was finally reached by the remaining 16 cardinal-electors in 1271. By then, they had been sequestered for more than a year and were living on rations of bread and water. The process they eventually used in arriving at their decision became the basis for canon law regarding papal conclaves. It’s still in use today.

6: The number of popes who were murdered

Over a dozen other popes may have been murdered, but evidence is fairly solid for the murder of at least six. Interestingly, all six of these murders were from 897-999, making the 10th century quite a dangerous one for popes. This list also does not include popes who were martyred. There are over 30 popes on the martyred list, mostly from the first 300 years of the church.

265: The number of Popes preceding Pope Francis

This number is actually more difficult to determine than you might think. In fact, the governing body of the Roman Catholic Church doesn’t even assign consecutive numbers to the popes. This is partly due to missing historical data and partly due to the presence of antipopes.

41: The number of antipopes

Antipopes are those who make competing claims against the legitimately elected Pope.  To be considered an “official” antipope, the claim must have been accepted by a significant faction. Defining such claims is difficult, but their regular presence is one of the major reasons why the Roman Curia can’t number the popes with certainty.

2: The number of Popes currently reigning on earth

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is also called a Pope. The current Coptic Pope, Theodoros II, was chosen in 2012 and is seated in Cairo. The Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church votes for the next pope. The names of the top three vote-getters are placed into a chalice. The name of the new Pope is drawn from that chalice by a boy wearing a blindfold.

80: The cut-off age for voting eligibility

In 1059, it was decided that the Pope would be elected by the College of Cardinals. In 1970, Pope Paul VI decided that the vote would be limited to cardinals who were under the age of 80.

23: The number of Popes named John

John is the most popular name for popes (and that doesn’t count the two popes named John Paul). There was no John XX. And there were two popes named John XXIII, but one of them was an antipope. See? It’s complicated!

1: The number of Popes named Francis

Pope Francis chose a new name, so he is currently the only one. He chose his papal name in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi.

One of the beautiful things about the Catholic Church is its rich history, and the papacy is no exception. The next time you see Pope Francis on the news, take a moment to think about how amazing it is that the papacy still exists. The Pope meets with Presidents, fires people, starts cricket teams, writes books, kisses babies, hugs the diseased, and shares kind words with the multitudes who come to see him.  You probably disagree with some of what the Catholic Church stands for, but let’s be honest, there are very few jobs in the world that have lasted for thousands of years. As institutions go, it’s pretty darn impressive.

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