There Is No Pope


There is no pope. There is no pope. There is no pope.

The phrase didn’t occur to me as the bell of St. Benedict’s Abbey  tolled over and over again for 10 minutes starting at 1:00 pm (8:00 pm in Rome) to mark the resignation of the Pope.

The phrase occurred to me when the bell stopped tolling and the Abbey grew silent.

St. Benedict's Abbey

St. Benedict’s Abbey tolled its bells as the Pope stepped down.

There is no pope. There is no pope. There is no pope.

Benedictine College is on the Kansas bank of the Missouri River, and when we cross the bridge into Atchison, the kids like to say “We’re in Missouri. We’re in Missouri. We’re in Missouri,” until we get halfway across, and then say, “We’re in Kansas. We’re in Kansas. We’re in Kansas.” We jokingly planned to do the same at the hour of the Pope’s retirement: “There is a Pope. There is a Pope. There is a Pope … There is no pope. There is no pope. There is no pope.”

But now, when the bell stopped tolling and there was no pope, I remembered the phrase — and it wasn’t funny anymore.

We are in the interregnum. The chair of Peter is vacant. The Vatican Twitter account is revoked. The Vatican website weirdly says Apostolica Sede Vacans next to an umbrella.

The Universal Church feels like my parish church on Good Friday when the tabernacle is empty.

There is no pope.

Kneeling there with the students (and the TV cameras; we were a “local angle” on the historic “Pope retires” story) the moment was far more emotional than I expected. The whole thing reminded me of Acts:  “So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”

Only now Peter wasn’t in prison. He was rising up out of the Vatican Gardens in a helicopter. He had grown old and frail and had stopped being Pope. I don’t fault him for it, I don’t consider it a Great Refusal, I don’t think he is stepping off a cross. In fact I think he shows compassion and magnanimity greater than his critics can even conceive. In his method of ending his papacy, he has shown himself to be a man of the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are the meek.

What he is doing is truly great.

But that doesn’t make it any less weird.

Back at my office, I took down the picture of the Pope from my wall. Colleagues suggested that that this was unnecessary, and I appreciate their point.

I almost kept the picture up there, too. I still greatly admire him. I still feel grateful that I lived at the time when he was Pope, and I still think that the most thorough, affordable theological education you can give yourself is to read his deep and clear writing every day.

But though I love his writing, that wasn’t the reason I had him on my wall. I had him on my wall because he was the Pope. And he is not the Pope anymore.

I remember during the Jubilee Year I briefly stayed in an apartment across the street from the colonnade of St. Peter’s. I was a father of five, but I was all alone in Rome. I loved it. I loved hearing a commotion in St. Peter’s Square and rushing out to see what was going on and finding myself a part of a celebration of one aspect of the faith or another.

I also loved going on early morning walks through the colonnade. It was on one of those early morning walks that I found myself face to face with a figure in an overcoat headed toward a side door at St. Peter’s. It was Cardinal Ratzinger. I stopped dead in my tracks and gaped, foolishly starstruck. It was obvious to him that I recognized him. He smiled shyly, nodded, and walked purposefully out of my way.

I believe Jesus Christ chose Peter to be the rock, and that he gives us his successors. And though I like the charming stories of the Galilean fisherman who was Andrew’s brother, absent Christ from the story I wouldn’t give Peter a second thought.

I believe God gave the Church the continuity of a magisterium and the grace of a vicar of Christ at its head. I think Pope Benedict XVI did a wonderful job in the role God gave him there, and I am grateful for his openness to God’s grace.

But now I can’t help but think of him as that shy, retiring man ducking into St. Peter’s through a utility door. A great man, I am convinced. But not the pope.

There is no pope.

I pray God we will have one soon.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of


About Author

Tom Hoopes, author of What Pope Francis Really Said, is writer in residence at Benedictine College, in Atchison, Kansas, where he teaches in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department and edits The Gregorian, a Catholic identity speech digest. He was previously editor of the National Catholic Register for 10 years and with his wife, April, of Faith & Family magazine for five. A frequent contributor to Catholic publications, he began his career as a reporter in the Washington, D.C., area and as press secretary for U.S. House Ways & Means Chairman Bill Archer. He lives in Atchison with his wife and those of his nine children still at home. The views and opinions expressed on this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Benedictine College or the Gregorian Institute.

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