A self-declared pope striving for the restoration of traditional Catholicism from a Kansas farmhouse.
David Allen Bawden, known to his followers as Pope Michael, was an American figure who, in 1990, was elected pope by a small group of laypeople, including himself and his parents, in a controversial stand against the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. Bawden, born on September 22, 1959, in Oklahoma City, grew up in a devout Catholic family deeply troubled by the changes brought about by the Second Vatican Council, which they felt betrayed the traditional teachings of the Catholic Church. This Council, convened from 1962 to 1965, sought to modernize the Church, introducing significant liturgical reforms and promoting ecumenism, which led to widespread controversy among traditionalists.
Bawden’s dissatisfaction with the Vatican II reforms and his expulsion from a seminary run by the Society of Saint Pius X due to “infighting” set the stage for his radical decision to claim the papacy for himself. Asserting that the papal seat had been vacant since the death of Pope Pius XII in 1958, a belief known as sedevacantism, Bawden and a tiny group of followers convened their own papal conclave in Belvue, Kansas. This conclave resulted in Bawden’s election to the papacy, after which he took the name Pope Michael, in homage to Archangel Michael, his religious hero.
Living with his mother in Delia, Kansas, Bawden’s papal activities were primarily funded by family money and donations. He conducted prayer meetings, maintained a website titled Vatican in Exile, and engaged with followers through social media and newsletters. Despite his efforts, Bawden’s following remained small, numbering around 30 “solid” followers, with others joining and leaving over the years.
Bawden’s claim to the papacy attracted attention not only for its unusual nature but also for the sincerity with which he and his followers approached their mission. They saw themselves as preserving the true Catholic faith in the face of what they considered the Church’s betrayal. His life and claims were documented in the feature-length documentary “Pope Michael,” which explored his daily activities, beliefs, and the motivations behind his controversial claim to the papacy.
Bawden passed away on August 2, 2022, but his legacy continues through the Vatican in Exile website and the followers who still adhere to his teachings. Following his death, some of his followers elected Rogelio Martinez, a bishop from the Philippines, as his successor, who took the name Michael II, indicating the continuation of Bawden’s movement beyond his lifetime.