I happened to hear Katie Couric mention this morning during the coverage of Pope John Paul 2's funeral that he was "the first non-Italian" pope. I don't know where her information comes from on this one. The Italians have had a stranglehold on the papacy for a long time and probably the next pope will be another Italian because of their clout with the conclave of cardinals. But, according to a program that I viewed on the History Channel last night, there have been many non-Italian popes through the years. I had also believed that John Paul 2 was unique in being a native of Poland, but if you go back far enough you will find popes that hailed from many countries other than Italy.
The History Channel special indicated there have been popes from France, Africa and quite a few other European and middle-eastern countries. In fact, the Pope's headquarters was moved to France for many years several centuries ago.
The special was quite fascinating and shed light on the corruption, chaos, and politics that dominated the papacy in the early days of the Catholic church. Popes were murdered. Popes died mysteriously. (One died when a ceiling collapsed on him) Popes openly led troops into battle. One pope had his predecessor's body exhumed, propped up in a throne, put on trial, and after getting the verdict he wanted, thrown into a nearby river. Popes used to be not such nice guys. And at one time there were three men claiming to be the pope all at the same time.
The original pope was St. Peter. What country was he from?
I was also enlightened to learn that the Vatican is a rather recent creation. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini made a deal with the pope in the 1920's to recognize the Vatican as a separate country if The Church would no longer claim parts of Italy as its own land. The Vatican takes up about 130 acres of land in the middle of Rome.
So, if the History Channel special had its facts right, Katie has misspoken.