Spoofs & Satire

Aleksandra Mir, Coppia, 2009. Courtesy the artist.

Papal Haze

Even as the Roman Catholic world prepares to welcome its 267th leader, the papacy remains mysterious and misunderstood. It’s time to explore the world of popes!

Did You Know…

  • The pope is forbidden to use a bidet.
  • Individual popes take on no physical transformations when chosen, yet multiple popes are able to meld themselves into one larger pope. This is rarely seen, as most popes die in office before the melding can occur.
  • Thirty-two popes have accidentally swallowed their Piscatory Rings. Eleven of them vomited it up, 20 decided to go the other route, and in one case, Paul V, the ring never appeared again.
  • The papal insignia and the Vatican coat of arms feature silver and gold “keys to the Kingdom.” Until 1528, the emblem included a pair of ears from which the keys hung, as was the practice among popes before the rise of the famously bone-lobed Medici.
  • The ballots used by cardinals to elect the pope are torn from the vestments of the previous pope, who is then buried naked. Popes who abdicate are required to go unclothed until their deaths.
  • Before conclaves, papal elections often took months to decide. The first conclave occurred in 1271 after lay authorities became weary of an election that had lasted more than two years. They forced the cardinals into a room and locked the doors, hoping everyone inside would starve to death. When the doors were finally opened, the cardinals had made their decision—and had survived by collecting rainwater from an open window. Since then, every conclave has included one lethal element that the cardinals must discover and defeat. In 2005 it was a coral snake hidden in one of the beds.
  • Popes who take on the name Boniface are actually host bodies being controlled by one jellyfish-like symbiont that has lived for millennia. Between hosts, it sleeps in a crystalline state in the Vatican reliquary.
  • Canon law dictates that if the wedding date of two Catholics falls on the anniversary of the pope’s enthronement, the pope is allowed one slow, sensuous dance with the bride.
  • The Popemobile GPS is voiced by actor Sean Connery.

Papal Firsts

First pope to win a pie-eating contest: St. Hormisdas

First pope to win a pie-eating contest fairly: Stephen X

First pope to use an electric steam iron: John Paul II, whose valet quit on Easter Sunday, 1987

First pope to see a minke whale: Benedict XV

First pope to shout “Jesus Christ” in rage: St. Peter

First pope to come from a family of oboists: Nicholas IV

First pope to appear on film: Leo XIII (in the Lumiêre Brothers’ 1895 film The Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat Station, the pontiff is actually driving the train)

First ventriloquist-pope: Innocent VIII and “Mini-cent”

First pope to have a nebula named after him: Sergius IV, whose nickname was “Horsehead”

First papal bull delivered via mime: Marcellus II

First pope to condemn Traducianism: Anastasius II (you thought it was St. Symmachus, didn’t you?)

Lives of the Unheralded Popes

Pope Magnifico
(from Gilberto Falci’s Sketches of the Papal States)

Who has not rejoiced in his heart at the site of MAGNIFICO, Steam-Powered Pontiff of Perugia? From his gleaming iron legs to his grinning face of fine bone china, from the glorious cacophony of his rear-mounted engine to the great puffs of smoke issuing from the chimney in his miter, he is an unrivaled figure of wisdom tempered with mirth and forge-fire.

In his daily perambulations up and down the Vatican gardens and across the bridges of Rome, he will stop to bless his flock, often releasing a spray of oil for the delight of small children. But do not think he neglects his duties. He has traveled—on foot!—to faraway cities and villages heretofore unseen by any pontiff. His political acumen is beyond reproach. Did he not subdue the Emperor Leopold with his reproductions of alpine birdcalls?

Truly, the Holy Father is a miracle to behold. His masses are models of efficiency—save for a most unfortunate Holy Thursday in which the Eucharist was delivered more and more quickly until the body of Christ was veritably flying through the air like confetti. Even so, the people cheered, for such is the piety of MAGNIFICO.

Pope Running Wind
(from Tales, Legends and Songs of the Western Cree)

Running Wind was a good hunter and fast rider, though not the best or fastest, and he lived a good life on the plains. He was somewhat respected for his wits, and known not to be unaverage. He may yet remain unknown were it not for a strange incident:

He awoke one day to find a group of strange men outside his camp—short with pallid faces, dressed in strange coverings of black and red. Running Wind had heard of men like these, but he thought they were only stories. The men in black had learned something of Running Wind’s language and called to him by name.

The men said, “We have gathered together in conclave and released the white smoke. Your name has come down to us as the new Bishop of Rome. The Vicar of Christ on earth.” Running Wind did not know the words bishop or Rome or vicar or Christ, but he saw how the men bent to kiss his hand. Clearly these men wish me to help them do something, thought Running Wind, and I have many tasks of my own. But when they showed him the garments and jewels he was to wear, he decided to hear them out. He was told he would be a great leader and occupy a great throne and be responsible for the souls of Christendom.

“Will the Christendom people trade me things for the care of their souls?”

“Oh my, yes.”

The men in black asked if Running Wind wanted to meet his Cardinals, who were his advisers. Running Wind said no, cardinals are the stupidest of birds—the wolf, the raven, the buffalo, these were better advisers than cardinals.

While one of the men went to find these animals, the rest asked questions. “Tell us, what do we do about the pretender-king Philip? Should we side with Konrad of Ancona?” Running Wind hesitated and said to wait for the animals.

But Running Wind was not to be a great man for long, as the buffalo did not enjoy being dressed in the red hat and sash, and took out his anger on Running Wind.

Lucifer the Poorly-Named-but-Worthy
(from his final address in St. Peter’s Square)

Good people, may you find it in your hearts to hear me out. It may be too much to ask for the barrage of rotten vegetables to cease, but I beseech you, pay heed between throws.

After much reflection and prayer, it has become clear that I am not the man meant to be your guiding light. Your disappointment in me has been made manifest. Your extreme disappointment, nay, rage. Murderous apoplexy, I would call it.

As unworthy flesh and blood, I have faults, and you may believe that the worst of these is taking Lucifer as my pontifical name. You may also believe I regret calling myself Lucifer. The Sacred College, the Curia, the prelates, the bishops, the monastic orders, the household staff, random travelers, even the Jews—they all begged me to pick a different one. Yet I am not sorry. I have always enjoyed the musicality of the name, and in truth, I meant to honor not the supreme agent of evil, but the good Lucifer, before the fall.

The name means light-bringer! Etymology, people!

No, I believe my greatest error was my decretal on the dress code of the papal exchequer, though it was little discussed. I wish I had been more humble, purer in spirit. My writings are few, though I could have done more if I had not been constantly checking my inks for poison.

Before my fingers slip from this balcony, know that I wish you only peace, and perhaps some lateral thinking skills. History and the blessed host of heaven will be my judges. Salutatem et apostolicam benedictionem.

Notable Antipopes

Antipope: one elected or claiming to be pope in opposition to the pope canonically chosen. —Merriam-Webster Dictionary

  • Clement IV-1
  • Bizarro Innocent
  • Shlomo I-VII
  • A bunch of cats dressed up like Julius II
  • Antipopus the Conspicuous
  • The conjoined twin of St. Pius V
  • Philberto, whose beard was more luxurious than Alexander III’s
  • Quote-Unquote Gregory XIII
  • Suckitleo I-V
  • Taxdodgus
  • A potato that resembled Adrian I
  • John XIXIIV, the scribe error that took on a life of its own
  • Calixtus III when drunk

The Lesser Crusades

The Crusade of the Enemies of the Borgias
In which the family of Pope Alexander VI called upon its rivals to meet the infidel Saracens in their newest European foothold two miles offshore. Alexander had evidence that the forces of Satan had given the infidels gills and they were massing in an undersea fortress until they could attack. The crusaders, suspicious but unwilling to be seen as cowardly, met at Genoa, where the pope was waiting with a submersible ship designed by da Vinci. Association with that honorable name allayed their fears, and they clambered aboard and launched. Below the waves, the crusaders had just enough time to read carved on the inside “Built by Baldassaro da Vinci,” a local cheese maker, before the first fish began nibbling on the outer hull.

The Crusade of John XIXIIV
The slaughter of “six thousand mounted warriors with scimitars and blowguns” and “ten billion magic lightning genie dervishes” probably never happened. See Notable Antipopes above.

The Butchers’ Crusade
Relatively non-violent; refers to a Bavarian guild of meat cutters upset that kosher meat was outselling their own. Crusaders marched en masse to Munich, or 3/800ths of the distance to Jerusalem, to ask cattle brokers to lower their prices by ten pfennigs per pound. Proclaimed after the fact by Pope Honorius IV as more of a resume builder than anything else.

The Mad Crusade
Pope Urban VI announced on his deathbed that he had recovered an Egyptian treasure trove and had stored it under “an enormous scarab.” This statement was overheard by three of his nuncios, two Swiss guardsmen, two nuns, the visiting Duke of Aragon, four bumbling beggars, and a brothel owner and his harem. These disparate groups took various means of travel across the continent in a race for the fortune, crossing paths with various powerful dignitaries. Their cover story was that they were on their way to sack Cairo. The voyage ended with the fortune being fired from a cannon and scattered throughout the city, but several heretics died along the way, so it was declared a success.

Notable Papal Deaths

  • St. Linus: found and ate discarded sack lunch of St. Peter under a chair, despite the food being years old
  • Formosus: gored by a golden bull; medical treatment delayed while he tried to convince everyone how ironic it was
  • Pius II: caught in Gutenberg’s printing press, which he was trying to destroy in anger
  • Martin V: crushed by bathtub he insisted on helping install in the papal apartment
  • St. Agatho: infection from piercing ears with the sacred keys (see Did You Know above)
  • Innocent III: double underhook suplex1 off the top turnbuckle
  • Clement XII: voodoo
  • Pius VII: massive stroke from laughing at that pope joke with the punchline “Beeg-a teets”
  • St. Dionysius: black market poultry deal gone bad


  1. The Chartulary of Blasphemous Holds by Anselm of Thessalonica banned the use of this move in the Ostian Order of Grappling. The diocese of Reims refused to honor this ban, leading to a caged diet royale in the Sistine Chapel in which the OOG triumphed. Pope Gregory IV issued a bull outlawing the suplex, but during the signing was hit from behind with a kneeler by the Archbishop of Grado, formerly Gregory’s loyal friend, before the bull could be sealed.

TMN Contributing Writer Michael Rottman lives like a lord in Toronto. His miscellany has appeared in print in The Fiddlehead, Grain, and Opium, and online at Yankee Pot Roast, Cracked, News Groper, and McSweeney’s. More by Michael Rottman