The article in The Wichita Eagle is headlined THE THRIFT STORE POPE. It's about David Bawden, a 30-year-old living with his parents in St. Marys, Kansas. Six people greatly disaffected with the Catholic Church have elected him pope, and he has taken the name Michael I.
"What we're doing is total common sense," insists David's mother, Clara.
"Everything in the Catholic Church is way out of order," says his father, Kenneth. "Or, it was, until the sixteenth of July. And now we've got our pope back."
David dresses in a white skullcap, black cassock, and frilly surplice. His papal throne rests in front of the altar in his parents' thrift store, where he works. With a friend, Teresa Stanfill Benns, a Denver homemaker, he wrote a book called Will the Catholic Church Survive the Twentieth Century?
The authors say all ordinations, most baptisms, and most confessions performed since Vatican II are invalid. Ditto for most Masses, since they are performed by priests who accept Vatican II.
Pope Paul VI, according to Bawden and Benns, was the Antichrist. Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was elected pope in 1958, at Pius XII's death, but Angelo Roncalli usurped the papacy as John XXIII. (It isn't clear why Ottaviani, never a man afraid to voice his opinion, didn't raise a stink.)
Bawden's election was not well received in St. Marys. He lost all his friends. A restaurant manager thinks Bawden "may have crossed over that fine line." A waitress snorted with laughter when she heard about the election.
During a town street sale, Bawden and his father set up a table piled high with copies of the new pope's book. No one was in a buying mood. "The people, when they realized who we were, they would scurry on down the street." Clara Bawden says the book has been sold in 24 countries--a total of 350 copies.
How did David Bawden get in this position? It seems to be largely his parents' fault. In the sixties and early seventies the elder Bawdens became disenchanted with changes in the Church. Like thousands of other people, they stopped attending Mass weekly and instead attended every few months, when a circuit-riding Traditionalist priest came to town.
Young David eventually went to a Lefebvrist seminary but was kicked out, "without cause," he says. He had protested to Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre (who has since been excommunicated for ordaining bishops without Pope John Paul II's authorization) about "irregularities" in school teachings; perhaps Bawden thought Lefebvre too conciliatory toward Rome.
One problem with Bawden's election as pope is that he isn't ordained--not a priest, not a bishop. The pope is the successor of Peter as bishop of Rome, and Bawden says that he's heard rumors that there are bishops in Russia and China who follow the "old ways" and who might be willing to consecrate him. Once that happens, his election becomes official.
Or so he and the six people who elected him think.
What about the 950 million other Catholics in the world (granting, for sake of argument, that Bawden and his followers are Catholics)? Few of them will hear of him; fewer still will follow him. But some will, and that's why we're recounting this story.
Keep in mind the parable of the lost sheep and how the good shepherd searched for it, leaving the ninety-nine behind. Not many Catholics will throw their allegiance to Pope Michael I, but a few may. A few more may swallow some of his arguments without swallowing his election. And a few more may follow some of the arguments of the second group.
By the time Bawden's influence has trickled down, he could be responsible for hundreds, even thousands, of people becoming disaffected. What he says will appeal to some alienated souls; what he says will make sense to some people.
It will make all the more sense to them if Bawden is ignored entirely, because the people who may be susceptible to his notions will think them all the more solid if no Catholic takes an interest and shows them what's what.
Aggregate with David Bawden's following all those other splinter groups, whether on the right or the left, and you suddenly have thousands of people, perhaps millions, who very easily can be ridiculed and ignored--but who shouldn't be. Each one is a lost sheep worth rescuing.
Okay, so Pope Paul VI wasn't the Antichrist. You know that, we know that, and so do six U.S. Army counterintelligence specialists who deserted their posts in West Germany to seek out and destroy the real Antichrist.
The Pentagon has refused to confirm or deny the report, but the six were arrested in Florida in July. They are Fundamentalists who sold all their possessions and headed for Pensacola, where they believe the Antichrist resides and where the rapture will occur in October.
Nothing has been heard for months from Karl Keating's one-time debate opponent, the Fundamentalist minister Peter Ruckman, who lives in Pensacola.
The Mexican bishops have adopted a new strategy to fight the sects. They're going on the offensive. They're calling on former Catholics to return to the Church. In this they're following the cue given by John Paul II when he visited Mexico in May.
The Catholic Church in Mexico says there are 300 sects seeking Catholics as members. About ten percent of the population belongs to the sects. In Guadalajara alone there are at least 47 sects operating with backing from U.S.-based groups.
Retired Bishop Genaro Alamilla Arteaga of Papantla says "we've often been on the defensive, and at other times we've attacked them." But now the bishops want to go on the offensive and take back the people lost to the sects. Let's pray their intentions can be translated into techniques which really work.
The Magic Blend, a New Age monthly, carries an ad headed EXTRATERRESTRIAL EARTH MISSION. Here's the copy:
"There are millions of us here. Extraterrestrials who have either been born in or walked-in to human bodies. We are a new species of beings that are here because of our love for Planet Earth. A new civilization is emerging through us. A civilization based in [sic] Love and the knowing that we are Universal Beings with a divine responsibility to support the evolution of planets. You may be one of these extraordinary entities and not conscious of it yet. Now is the time! Wake up!"
The ad hawks Extraterrestrial Earth Mission, Book One, Awakening, in which "pages carry various perspectives on life on Planet Earth from an extra-terrestrial point of view. This unusual book was written by E.T.'s about their mission to Planet Earth."
Other books are available, including Boogie Busting: A Light Approach to Exorcism and Conscious Channeling: An Extraterrestrial Approach.
You can even get audio and video tapes about "extraterrestrial spirits living in human bodies who are actively participating in the cutting of pathways for the co-creation of a new way of life on Planet Earth. They call it the Co-creation of Heaven on Earth. Even if you do not feel that you are an extraterrestrial, you will find these perspectives fresh and stimulating."
Off to the side are photos of the authors, "Silarra" and "Savizar." She looks a bit dazed, and he, in his tee shirt, looks like a chunky cabbie we saw in Philly.
The Seraph is a monthly "published with episcopal authorization." The bishop giving the authorization happens to be the editor, Louis Vezelis, who was illicitly consecrated and now heads his own religious order, the Order of St. Francis of Assisi, Inc., located in Rochester. It is one more of those break-away outfits opposed to the "Conciliar Church" and to recent popes.
When you start your own denomination, there's a tendency to go off the deep end. That wouldn't be so bad, except you tend to take others with you and to pass along to them peculiar ideas. Some Catholics, upset about problems in the Church, have abandoned hope and joined groups such as Vezelis's. When they do so, they receive a diet of odd notions. Here's an example.
One of the regular contributors to The Seraph is the Rev. S. O. Park. He may or may not be a priest. (Another name on the masthead is "Fr. [not Rev.] Joseph Noonan.")
Park wrote a four-part series titled "Demonism." His ideas are much like those of the more extreme Protestant "deliverance ministries," which see every unfortunate thing as being caused immediately by a demon: the demon of headaches, the demon of floods, the demon of stubbed toes. To avoid such calamities, say the deliverance people, you need to engage in a constant round of exorcisms.
Park says that in the U.S. "fully 250 million are actually being kept in a state of diabolical possession by means of the food they eat and the beverages they drink." How's that? Why, they don't bless their food before eating, that's why. You see, the Devil's agents ("usually witches and warlocks") put demonic influences into foods.
"The blessing of such food and drink will break the maleficium and render it harmless." If the blessing is overlooked, as it is by most Americans, then the eater becomes possessed when the unblessed food is consumed.
There's more. If unblessed food isn't bad enough, kosher food is worse. "Whatever they `kosher' does not make the thing pure, it makes it impure," says Park. "Or, to use an equally applicable term: It puts a demonic spell upon the item and turns it into a maleficium, an instrument whereby evil spirits are taken into the body in the form of food or drink. Or, as in the case of non-eatables that are used in the home, they are bringing into the home of [sic] evil spirits."
So there you have it: deliverance ministry united with not-so-subtle anti-Semitism--another warning about the danger of starting one's own church.
In the last quarter century, Methodists have declined from 14 percent to 9 percent of America's population, Lutherans from 7 percent to 6 percent, Presbyterians from 6 percent to 3 percent, and Episcopalians from 3 percent to 2 percent. These four "mainline" denominations accounted for 30 percent of our people a generation ago, but only 20 percent today.
Can they even be called "mainline" any longer? They are out-numbered by Evangelicals, who represent about 25 percent of all Americans, and by Catholics, who represent about the same.
Looking for a good classified ad? Try Shaman's Drum, another of those New Age magazines. Here are some recent offerings:
"Skulls, claws, teeth, quills, furs, hides, buckskins, antlers, etc. Free price lists. MHF, Box 8918, Moscow, ID 83843." (Question: Why aren't the animal rights people after these guys?)
"Sacred plants--books, herbal & feather products. Handmade sage smudges. Catalog $1. Sophia Books, P.O. Box 590096-S, San Francisco, CA 94159-0096." (And where do they get the feathers? Off pigeons in the park?)
"Earn your living helping the Earth Mother. $5,000 to $100,000 per year part time. [Wow! Only part time!] Breed endangered species at home. Mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, insects, plants. Free information. Zoovival, Drawer 15007-B27, Clearwater, FL 34629." (Question: We'd like to breed extraterrestrials. Do you have any?)
The Seventh-Day Adventists took out a six-page advertising spread in Time magazine. Its purpose: to tout the medical insights of Ellen Gould White, the founder of the sect, and to push for Saturday worship.
Mrs. White is quoted as having said, "People are continually eating flesh that is filled with tuberculosis and cancerous germs. Tuberculosis, cancer, and other fatal diseases are thus communicated." A full-page portrait of her, with the title "I was shown . . .," gives this quotation: "Cancer is a germ."
"Was she ever wrong?" the ad copy asks. "Nobody's proven her wrong yet. Her medical, nutritional, and environmental counsel have simply stood the test of time, leaving doctors and scientists in awe."
"Awe" isn't quite the word we suspect most doctors and scientists would use.
The Jehovah's Witnesses are saying the troubles in the Middle East are the start of Armageddon, which they've been predicting would occur Any Day Now for the last century or so.Our staffer Charles Harvey, a sports aficionado, says he doesn't much care when Armageddon comes, so long as it's after the Super Bowl.