On this day in 1590, Pope Urban VII died. Given all this Pope Francis madness last week, I thought it would be nice to talk about Urban VII. He did some nice things. He banned tobacco from in and around churches. He subsidized bakers in Rome so they could sell bread cheaply to the poor. But mostly, he’s known for dying: he was only pope for 13 calendar days. That’s the shortest papacy in history.
But he has a lot of competition. Of the 266 popes that the Catholic Church has had, there are ten who served for between 16 and 34 days. A total of at least 23 served less than a year. And there’s also Pope-elect Stephen — a man who died so fast (Three days!) that he didn’t even make it to his consecration and thus isn’t generally considered a pope.
Currently, Pope Francis is sitting at roughly a quarter the way up with two and half years, but he is still alive of course. Benedict XVI served almost 8 years, and that puts him in the middle of popes. Of course, he’s still alive too — just not pope. Well, he still has the title — it’s kind of weird. He’s pope but not the real pope. Anyway, I suppose I should mention that the longest reigning pope was Pope Pius IX (1846 – 1878). He did live a long time, but it was mostly due to the fact that he became pope at the age of 54. He is the joker who came up with “papal infallibility.” The same is true for the number two man, John Paul II, who was only 58. That gave him 26 years to shame AIDS-ravaged Africa into avoiding condoms. We might have been better off if these men had served terms more like Urban VII.