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Monday, May 30, 2005

Kansan mostly alone in belief that he’s the true pope
The weathered blue farmhouse stands just off a dirt road in the rolling hills northwest of Topeka.

There are children’s toys lined up in the yard and irises blooming in the garden around a statue of the Virgin Mary. Satellite dishes and solar panels point toward the southern sky.

“Good morning,” says the dark-haired man on the front porch. “How are you? I’m Pope Michael.”

This is David Bawden. He has never been ordained a priest and hasn’t been to Mass since 1989. But to his tiny flock, numbering about 100 and scattered as far away as India and Australia, he is the rightful leader of the Catholic Church.

Bawden, 45, has claimed the title of Michael I since 1990, when he was elected by six people — two of them his mother and late father — meeting in his father’s consignment store in nearby Belvue. He has maintained his “Vatican in Exile” near Delia for the past dozen years...

Even most other traditionalists — who reject the reforms of the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s and maintain that no legitimate pope has ruled from the Vatican since Pope Pius XII died in 1958 — dismiss his election, which they largely ignored despite what Bawden said were months of preparations and publicity.

“They had the right idea (i.e., that an election was necessary), but the wrong execution,” the Rev. Robert Lyons, a cardinal in the “true Catholic Church” led by the Rev. Lucian Pulvermacher, wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Pulvermacher, a former Capuchin priest who took the name “Pope Pius XIII” after his followers elected him in 1998, lives near Spokane, Wash. At least 10 other people around the world have claimed the papacy since 1958, some by election and some by what they claimed was divine revelation.

“Bawden was ‘elected’ pope by his parents and a lady friend,” Lyons wrote. “Anyone with an ounce of common sense would see such as a flawed election.”

But to the “lady friend,” author Teresa Benns, the fact that Bawden was the only eligible man present at the 1990 election was a sign from God.

“I had never considered him a real candidate until the very day of the election,” said Benns, who lives in La Garita, Colo. “We had expected priests. We had expected more response. It was a disappointing thing, but it was like God saying, ‘This is the choice I give you.”’

The next time there's an election for a new pope in rural Kansas, I'm signing up. If simply being the only interested person to show up at a meeting is all it takes to become the pope, why not? And since I'd have to tend to a flock of only ten people, which couldn't possibly take up very much time, I could still keep my current job (and benefits!). I'll probably have to find a "lady friend" to support me in my candidacy, but who's going to turn down the future pope?

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