25 Fascinating Facts About Popes and the Papacy

Posted by , Updated on May 22, 2024

Without a doubt, the pope ranks as one of the most influential figures worldwide. He leads billions of people on their spiritual paths, overseeing one of the largest institutions in history, the Catholic Church. Regardless of personal views about him, his substantial impact on countless lives is undeniable. That said, how did he attain this esteemed position? What endows this one person with such remarkable influence over so many individuals?

To understand this, we need to go back a couple thousand years. The Catholic Church started with Peter. He was the first pope. Ever since then, the pope has changed every few decades (either due to the pope stepping down or passing away). This has led to a chain of popes leading straight from Saint Peter directly up to Pope Francis (as of this writing). However, there is much more to the Catholic Church than just the pope. The number of traditions and customs can be quite staggering. After two thousand years, it is probably no surprise that it would have so many. Today, we are going to dive head first into the history of this vastly influential institution as we read 25 Intriguing Facts And Stories About Popes And Papacy You Might Not Know!

Featured Image: wikipedia


President Johnson once exchanged gifts with Pope Paul VI. Johnson received a 15th century painting. The pope received a bust of Johnson.

President JohnsonImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Despite what some may believe, a pope doesn't have to first be a cardinal or a priest. Any baptized male can be elected. However, the last non-cardinal, non-priest elected was Urban VI in 1378.

Urban_VIImage: commons.wikimedia, Source: lifeteen.com

Pope Gregory IX thought cats were the incarnation of Satan. This led to a massive killing of cats, which caused a massive increase in the rat population, which caused a massive outbreak of the black death.

catsImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

An antipope is someone who is considered by some people to be the legitimate pope in opposition to the rightful pope.

An antipope is someone who is considered by some people to be the legitimate pope in opposition to the rightful popeImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

In 1440, the Pope made a land deal with the city of Florence, but a small piece of land was accidentally left out of the contract. The people promptly declared independence, and the Republic of Cospaia was born. It maintained independence for nearly 400 years.

cospaiaImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

In 2000, the Pope gave his support to the world of Pokemon in order to counteract the controversy that it was "the work of the devil."

pokemonImage: wikipedia, Source: telegraph.co.uk

Pope Benedict IX is the only man to have been pope more than once and also the only pope to have ever sold the papacy.

Pope Benedict IXImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Some people wanted Pope Clement VII to ban coffee because they thought it was the "devil's beverage." After tasting some coffee though, the Pope said it would be a sin to only let unbelievers drink something so delicious.

coffeeImage: pixabay, Source: wikipedia

Pope John Paul II was educated in an underground university during the Nazi invasion.

Pope John Paul IIImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Pope Benedict XII was elected by accident. This is because back in the day, the cardinals would all vote for a random candidate during the first round of voting to see who everyone else was leaning towards. However, they all voted for the same person.

Pope Benedict XIIImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

In 1269, the cardinals took almost 3 years to elect the pope. To speed up the process, the villagers in Viterbo refused to send the cardinals anything more than bread or water.

breadImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

In spite of being criticized for not speaking against Hitler, Pope Pius XII oversaw one of the largest rescue operations in history. It was responsible for saving the lives of nearly 1 million Jews.

Pope Pius XIIImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Pope Francis was once a nightclub bouncer.

Pope FrancisImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

If you think Pope Francis is pretty cool, check out our list of 25 Interesting Facts About Pope Francis You Probably Didn’t Know.


In 1951, Pope Pius XII declared that the Big Bang was compatible with Catholicism.

Big BangImage: pixabay, Source: wikipedia

When Pope John XXIII was asked how many people worked in the Vatican, he replied, "about half of them."

VaticanImage: wikipedia, Source: huffingtonpost

If you are awarded one of the five orders of knighthood by the Pope, you can enter St. Peter's Basilica on horseback.

horseImage: pixabay, Source: businessinsider

During lent, some German monks were known for only drinking beer. They felt guilty, so they took some to the pope for his approval. On the way, the beer went bad, the Pope hated the taste, and he let them drink it for Lent.

beerSource: germanbeerinstitute.com, Image: pixabay

Pope Paul VI watched the first moon-landing through a telescope in the Vatican observatory.

moon landingImage: pixabay, Source: nasa

In 1537, the Pope announced that the Native Americans were "rational beings with souls" and shouldn't be enslaved.

Native AmericansImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

According to the Seventh Day Adventists, the Pope will be the Anti-Christ.

Seventh Day AdventistsImage: wikipedia, Source: telegraph.co.uk

If a Catholic priest ever reveals anything that somebody confessed to him, that priest is excommunicated and can only be forgiven by the Pope.

confession boothImage: pixabay, Source: wikipedia

Sometimes the Pope names a new cardinal without telling anyone. Not even the cardinal. (In pectore)

cardinalImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

In 2005, lawyers of Pope Benedict XVI asked President George W. Bush to declare him immune as a foreign head of state. (According to the law, as a foreign head of state, he already had this immunity, so the letter was unnecessary, but the media ran with it.) This happened because Pope Benedict XVI had been accused of conspiring to cover up sexual abuse.

Pope Benedict XVIImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Sede vacante is a period of time when there is no pope (he dies or abdicates). It remains this way until a successor is named.

Sede vacanteImage: wikipedia, Source: wikipedia

Pope Benedict XVI would fly his helicopter but never learned to drive a car.

Pope Benedict XVIImage: wikipedia, Source: huffingtonpost