David Bawden, now of Topeka Kansas was "elected" Pope Michael I on July 16, 1990. There were six electors, including himself and his mother and father. The three electors that were not members of the family would later split off to form a rival sect.
For the past twenty-six years, Bawden has "reigned" as Pope, first from a rural farmhouse that he shared with his parents and then from a fixed-up Victorian in Topeka. He now conducts his ministry through the internet and claimed a few years ago to have thirty followers.
According to Bawden, these are the only real Catholics in the world.
I wrote the above summary in as neutral a manner as possible, but it would be understandable if, after reading it, the first things that came to your mind were "nut," crackpot," "fanatic," "egomaniac" and so on.
With respect, you would be wrong.
Bowden has more Catholic faith and love for Christ in his little finger than half the priests and bishops of the contemporary Church put together.
He has more knowledge of the history and laws of the Church than most Catholic writers.
He is more of a gentleman than any public prelate in the current curia.
And he seems to have more humility than even many of the good priests that I know. He certainly is a million times more humble than the current occupant of the Papal throne.
For a man from Kansas claiming to be the one true pope, the last is pretty amazing.
Bawden and his family, friends and followers are victims of the post-conciliar Church, just as we are victims of it. All of us have dealt with this in different ways, being as faithful to the Church as possible, as best we understood things. Obviously, Bawden chose a different path then most. And God will judge him for it just as He will judge all of us. Being wrong about who has legitimate authority in the current Church is not a trivial matter. But it is also not the worst sin in the world. Not by a mile. And in the right context it may not even be a sin. I cannot believe that a just God would condemn Bawden for what he has done. Indeed, I suspect that it might be something of the opposite.
I could be wrong.
Much of what I'm saying is based on a 2011 documentary, appropriately titled, Pope Michael. It was directed by Adam Fairholm with a small crew. None of them are followers of Bawden. I have no idea whether Fairholm is a Catholic or even Christian. I wouldn't be surprised either way.
But I thought the movie was brilliant. It is a "neutral" documentary in the best sense, but it is clearly sympathetic to Bawden as a man, if only because Bawden is a naturally sympathetic character. It is fascinating, moving, sad and ultimately inspiring.
I was directed to the movie by a post on The Okie Traditionalist blog, which appeared as one of the links on Canon212 a week or so ago. The author, like me, appears to be a "standard" traditionalist Catholic who also cannot avoid some sympathy with Bawden, the man.
Every time I hear the story of Pope Michael its about an eccentric, anomalous guy from Kansas, a sedevacantist (i.e. until he filled the chair), traditionalist Catholic with the idiosyncratic belief he is somehow the pope. But I think this characterization misses a deeper story. His story is that of a lot of traditional Catholics out there--including me--understandably crazed by the Crisis in the Church, shifting back and forth across the traditionalist, polemic spectrum, yet trying to be faithful and holy. Some just go a bit too far.Watch the film and decide for yourself. Whatever your conclusions, I think you'll find it an interesting use of an hour. If you want to know a bit more about "Pope Michael," you can visit his website Vatican in Exile or his Facebook page.
Is David Bawden the pope? I do not think so. But he wouldn't make a bad one. And it's certain he would be a great improvement over the current claimant.