Five Factoids about Popes and their Appointment

With Pope Benedict XVI’s announcement that he will be resigning from office at the end of February, news organizations the world over will be scrambling to provide their audiences with interesting titbits about the Pope and the Holy See. I therefore have compiled this list for the benefit of media outlets everywhere, and fully look forward to seeing it reproduced in newspaper sidebars everywhere:

  1. Before going into the conclave all cardinals are measured by the official tailor to the Holy See, Sticciuppi, so that the turnaround between election and announcement and appearance of the new Pope is not delayed by the production of the necessary white cassock, socks, Popemobile seatbelt, etc. While being measured before the last conclave, Joseph Ratzinger was gesticulating so wildly that his sleeves were famously short when he was presented to the world as Pope Benedict XVI. Ratzinger was complaining to anyone who’d listen about how Cardinal Scheefo had not properly cleaned the microwave in the Sistine Kitchen, even though it was his turn, and in spite of the strict set of instructions stuck to the wall next the sink: Ratzinger is well known for his strict requirement that the shared kitchen be kept immaculately clean.

  2. When a Pope resigns, the first person who publicly says ‘I knew that was coming’ (or words to that effect) must have his hair shaved off (all his hair) by the Barber to the Holy See, who must be appointed for the purpose. Part of the reason that no Pope has resigned since 13571 is the extremely arduous and time-consuming process mandated for the appointment of the Barber to the Holy See, which requires the participation of every living Bishop and the entire staff of the Roman Curia. In recent years Canon Lawyers have been trying to establish why the appointment of the Barber is so much more rigorous than the appointment of the Pope (which is itself a pretty involved process).

  3. The group of men in dark suits who can be seen surrounding the Pope at public events are known as the Dutch Guard. The group is known to have been founded well after the Swiss Guard, but its history and relationship with the Holy See is otherwise surrounded in mystery. What is known, however, is that the same men also accompany the Pope within the confines of the Papal palaces—they swarm around him at breakfast (where they will pass butter, eggs, and milk, but requests for them to pass the bread rolls go ignored), and also accompany him when he goes to plug in the Papal iPad to charge.

  4. The Pope may not speak by telephone. This is mandated in Canon Law. Instead, he must write letters to those he cannot address in person. The Law was introduced when the Holy See entered into an agreement with the international paper-makers’ union at the time of the proliferation of the telephone throughout the world. The Pope at the time, John XXI2 had a brother who owned a chain of paper mills across eastern and central Canada.

  5. Every Pope watches the 1968 version of The Producers at least three times during his first year in the job. This is not required by Canon Law, but is customary. Pope John Paul I was only able watch the film once before his demise. A new Pope can be recognized by his efforts at greeting people with the badly-pronounced Swedish expression ‘God dag på dig’, accompanied by amused glances from the Dutch Guard.

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  1. Editor: you might want to check this date.
  2. Again, editor, please check this lest we all look stupid.


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