ASK FATHER: “Pope Michael”… just another crazy person?

From a reader…


Due to some recent tweets from the guy who styles himself as “Pope Michael”, I’m seeing posts from people claiming that he is a validly, albeit illicitly, ordained Bishop. They are pointing to an ordination from the Old Catholics and saying that we need to treat him with the respect afforded any other validly ordained schismatic Bishop (i.e. the Orthodox, etc). Is this true? Do the Old Catholics have valid Orders, and do we have to give him episcopal respect instead of just dismissing him as just another crazy person?


The distinction between a bishop and another crazy person might seem, at times, to be a perilously fine line, but we, as Catholics, especially rigid, hidebound manualists, are fond of making distinctions.

As Aquinas teaches us, seldom affirm, never deny, and always distinguish.

David Bawden, who styles himself Pope Michael, has pretended to be pope now for 30 years, having been elected in a conclave consisting of his parents and three others. At the time of his election, he was not in holy orders, having left the seminary of the Priestly Society of St. Pius X in 1978. In 2011, he was ordained to the priesthood (presumably after having been tonsured, ordained to the minor orders, and ordained as a deacon, though this is unclear) and then consecrated a bishop by Robert Biarnesen.

Biarnesen had been ordained a bishop a month earlier by Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, whose full name and titles are: His Excellency Plenipotentiary RF the Most Reverend Patriarch Doctor Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, D.D., Ph.D., Juris Doctor, Theologian, Academician Russian Federation, Resident Native American Archbishop and Chancellor of International Theological University.

His Excellency Plenipotentiary RF the Most Reverend Patriarch Doctor Chief Alexander Swift Eagle Justice, D.D., Ph.D., Juris Doctor, Theologian, Academician Russian Federation, Resident Native American Archbishop and Chancellor of International Theological University had been consecrated seven years prior by John Anglo Parnell, of the Mexican National Catholic Church, who in turn had been consecrated by Jurgen W. Bless of the Philippine Independent Catholic Church, who had been consecrated by Paul William Schultz Jr., who in turned had been consecrated by his father, Paul William Schultz, Sr. on two occasions as well as by five others bishops on five other occasions – just in case one of his consecrations didn’t work.

Tracing the episcopal pedigree of some of the folks is fascinating. Generally, they trace back to one or several persons: a traditionally-minded, validly ordained Catholic bishop who might have gotten a bit nutty in his old age; a charlatan who bribed and/or tricked some Indian bishop with valid orders to consecrate him; a bishop associated with the Old Catholic Church, the Polish National Catholic Church, or various and sundry schismatic churches.

The locations of most of these consecrations tend to be a small parlor in home decorated in mid-century garage sale baroque, or a rented Protestant church, in the presence of thundering crowds often numbering in the tens.

Determining the validity of the orders that flow from these diverse fonts is tricky and, frankly, not worth the effort that would be needed.

Apostolic Succession, as one Russian Orthodox priest  said to me, should not be looked on as a contagious disease that one acquires merely by contact with a valid carrier.

The current practice of the Holy See, when one of these gentlemen seek to return to the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church, is to welcome them “quasi laicus” – as if they were a layman, and to forbid them the exercise of any order they have putatively received while also barring them from any ordination or conditional ordination. They are accorded the respect due to any person made in the image and likeness of God and adopted into the Divine Family by their sacramental baptism.

Should David Bawden be accorded any more or less respect? Certainly not.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ThePapalCount says:

    I concur with the last sentence completely “They are accorded the respect due to any person made in the image and likeness of God and adopted into the Divine Family by their sacramental baptism.”
    And I think he is nuts.

  2. FranzJosf says:

    Father’s reaponse raises an interesting question, at least to me: Since a bishop has the ‘fullness of orders’, could one be simply consecrated a bishop without first being ordained a deacon and priest? If a layman were elected pope, would he have to have all three to be Bishop of Rome?

  3. Joy1985 says:

    I pray for these people who think they can go around God’s properly ordained and appointed Pope. God have mercy on them and on the whole world. He’s kept this up for 30 years, wow!

  4. Gaetano says:

    Apostolic succession isn’t some baton that can be acquired and then held hostage by successive lines of ordinands as it is passed down.
    Indeed, the obsessive degree to which they post their ecclesial pedigrees bears this out.

  5. tho says:

    Father, I don’t think it is a good idea to give these crazies any publicity. My thinking is that we have enough legitimate eccentrics in our own hierarchy. But as the saying goes “make a mess”, or maybe “who am I to judge”.

  6. Kathleen10 says:

    I remember watching a documentary about Pope Michael. As I recall then and I feel the same way today, no, more, we would be a lot better off with him than what we’ve got. He certainly seemed devout and he also seemed to know a great deal about actual Catholicism. If our hierarchy was half as serious as he is about Catholicism, the whole world would be in far better shape.
    Frankly I wish he was the pope.

  7. Elizium23 says:

    I don’t pity the Chancellor or whatever diocesan official who has to untangle the validity of confirmations or what-have-you. In the parish office, I took care of sacramental records for religious ed., etc. We had to red-or-yellow-flag some certificates of doubtful validity.

  8. Elizium23 says:

    I don’t pity? Yes I do… I don’t envy them…

  9. Rob in Maine says:

    If I recall, Eye of the Tiber pokes fun at this guy.

  10. Public Savant says:

    I am unsure as to why the US can’t have Pope Michael. Canada has Gregory XVIII and Spain has Peter III. Pope Linus II (England) has done a Benedict and seems to be retired (in any case if he’s English so the Irish in me makes me want to look elsewhere) whilst Pope Alexander IX is clearly unstable …

  11. TRW says:

    “mid-century garage sale baroque”

    Beautiful! ROFL

  12. MattH says:

    As far as the part of the question “Do the Old Catholics have valid Orders….”
    My understanding is that historically, all or most of the major parts of the Old Catholic movement had validly ordained bishops when they started- indeed, many licitly ordained in Catholic churches and then entered into schism. The first few generations of their clergy were thus likely valid.
    However, in the last couple decades, many of them (with the notable exception of the Polish National Catholic Church, PNCC, which left the Union of Utrecht over these changes) have done two major things:
    – Started ordaining women
    – Establish full communion with various Anglican bodies
    As a result, I don’t know how they view their own orders at this point, or how Rome or the Orthodox Churches view them.
    Again, except for PNCC. For example, the USCCB statement on the guidelines for reception of Holy Communion says “Members of the Orthodox Churches, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church are urged to respect the discipline of their own Churches. According to Roman Catholic discipline, the Code of Canon Law does not object to the reception of Communion by Christians of these Churches (canon 844 §3).”
    So I think of PNCC clergy as being like Orthodox clergy, since that’s the category they are listed with, but any other Old Catholic jurisdiction, hard to say.

  13. JesusFreak84 says:

    I wonder if Mr. Bawden even received any of the Minor Orders… I’m reading through the book(let) the SSPX issued in 2003 about the Sedevacantist movement and they referred to folks like Bawden as “conclavists,” though by and large when they used the term they had the Palamarian {sp?} “popes” in mind. The book is certainly worth a read for anyone who finds Salza’s more recent tome on the issue too intimidating.

    I suspect if I met a clergy from the SSPV I’d use at least the term Father, (their leader was ordained by Absp. Lefebve {sp?} but I’m eh about his claim to consecration as a “bishop,”) but for the CMRI and the rest of the “Thuc” line, not a chance, and a Thuc “bishop” still has a faaaaaar greater claim to valid orders than Mr. Bawden. I do believe in respecting my elders, however, so I doubt I’d be outright *rude* to him if I met the guy. I *think* I would probably treat male Old Catholic clergy like I would the Eastern Orthodox. The women “clergy” I would regard as laywomen without a doubt.

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