Having just watched much of the wall-to-wall coverage of the recent election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis, I found myself thinking back to a somewhat strange, but nonetheless compelling film I watched a year or so ago about a young man who called himself ‘Pope Michael’.
On July 16th, 1990 David Bawden and five other people (two of whom were Bawden’s parents) gathered together in a modified thrift store in Belvue, Kansas. Bawden’s group who had come to believe that the Catholic Church had seceded from the true Catholic faith, and that there had been no legitimate popes elected since the death of Pius XII in the late 1950’s. Ostensibly, their purpose was to elect a ‘legitimate’ pope. Unsurprisingly, David received the majority of the votes, was duly elected and took the name Pope Michael I.
Over the next eighteen years, some followers left, notably Bawden’s main benefactor, whilst others joined; throughout Bawden lived with his mother in Delia, Kansas. Much of his activity was, and still is, confined to the internet. Several young men were attracted to his message and joined Bawden to train as priests in his tiny sect.
The film “Pope Michael” follows Bawden, his mother Tickie, and his seminarian Phil over a period of 14 months from August 2008 to October 2009. The main protagonists in the film are likeable characters who seem genuine in their beliefs. That said, the oddness of their situation is perplexing; the home movie footage of Bawden sitting in a run-down store bedecked in his papal vestments is bizarre to say the least.
Adam Fairholm and his crew have put together an excellent film that will leave you with as many questions as it will answers. You can watch the full 65 minute documentary for free via the film-maker’s web site here. It’s well worth watching!