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Conclavism is a term used to describe the beliefs and practices of a small minority of Traditionalist Catholics who reject the generally accepted line of succession to the papacy and instead give their allegiance to alternative popes (or antipopes) whom they have elected themselves.

The term comes from the word "conclave", which is used in relation to mainstream Catholic papal elections. Conclavists tend to be strongly opposed by other Traditionalist Catholics, including the sedevacantists with whom they share the belief that the official succession of popes is invalid.

A similar phenomenon is that of self-proclaimed popes (so-called "mysticalists") whose claim to the papacy derives from a supposed personal supernatural revelation.


Conclavism as a phenomenon is inextricably linked with sedevacantism, which itself developed in the late 1960s and 1970s, in the years following the Second Vatican Council. Though the sedevacantist pioneer Fr. Joaquín Sáenz y Arriaga of Mexico advocated holding a papal election in the mid-1970s and a number of other traditionalists discussed the idea in the following years, conclavism was primarily a movement of the 1990s, associated in particular with the English-speaking world.

The first of the antipopes listed below, Pope Michael, began to promote the idea of a papal election in the late 1980s. Ultimately, he circulated notices to the editors of all sedevacantist publications that he could find, and notified all priests listed in a directory of traditionalists as being sedevacantists, sending in all over 200 copies of a book that he had written to recipients in 20 countries.[1]

A U.S. traditionalist Catholic, Ken Mock, is sometimes credited with being the father of the conclavist movement. Mock's actual record of involvement in the various elections seems somewhat ambivalent. In the Bawden case, Pope Michael claims that Mock arrived the day before the election and attempted to stop it; he also claims that Mock later told Von Pentz that he (Michael) had abdicated in favour of him, and that he tried to stop the Von Pentz election.[2]. He was involved in the preparations for the election of Pulvermacher, but he reportedly lost faith in him, coming to believe that he was rigging the election in his favour.

Conclavist antipopes

  • Pope Michael (1990). In 1990, Teresa Stanfill-Benns and David Bawden of Kansas in the USA, called for a conclave to elect a pope. They publicised their request around the world, but only six people participated in the election. On July 16, 1990, the six gathered in Belvue, Kansas, and elected Bawden who took the name Pope Michael.
  • Pope Linus II (1994). Another conclave, this time held in Assisi, Italy, elected the South African Victor von Pentz as Pope Linus II in 1994. Linus took up residence in Hertfordshire, England.
  • Pope Pius XIII (1998). In October 1998, the U.S.-based "true Catholic Church" elected Fr. Lucian Pulvermacher as Pope Pius XIII.
  • Pope Leo XIV (2006). On 24 March 2006 a group of 34 episcopi vagantes elected the Argentine Oscar Michaelli as Pope Leo XIV. On his death on 14 February 2007, he was succeeded by Juan Bautista Bonetti, who took the name of Pope Innocent XIV, but resigned on 29 May 2007. He was succeeded by Alejandro Tomas Greico, who took the name of Pope Alexander IX.


Technically distinct from the above conclavist antipopes is the category of "popes" (sometimes called "mysticalists") whose claims to the papacy derive from alleged divine revelations or apparitions. In these cases, there is no "conclave" process, and hence the term "conclavism" is arguably inappropriate.

As can be seen, several of these individuals have styled themselves Peter II, a name that is normally considered taboo for a Pope and which has apocalyptic connotations in Catholic circles.

The first post-Vatican II antipope to come to wide public notice, Pope Gregory XVII of the Palmarian Catholic Church, whose papal claim was asserted in 1978, fell into this category. Other antipopes of the same sort include the following:

Alleged divine appointment was also the basis for the pre-Vatican II (1950) claim of Michel Colin to the papacy as Clement XV.[3] [4] Colin's sect survives, divided into different factions, to this day.

The Legio Maria

The Legio Maria movement of Kenya can be considered as a special case within conclavism. It has its own popes and ecclesiastical structure, having broken with the official Church in the early 1960s, but it is geographically and ethnically concentrated in western Kenya and has no connection with sedevacantism or the doctrinal underpinnings of other conclavist groups. The current Legio Maria pope is Raphael Titus Otieno.


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