There’s an old and slightly antisemitic joke that goes: “What’s a Jewish dilemma?” The answer is “free ham.” (I’m allowed to tell this because I’m a cultural Jew.)

But here’s an even bigger dilemma for me:

The Pope likes cats.

As the BBC News reports in “Benedict XVI: 10 things about the Pope’s retirement” (my emphasis):

6. Life in retirement Announcing his resignation, the Pope said he would spend his time praying for the Church. His elder brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, has also said Benedict would be happy to advise his successor, if required. Writing and studying also seems likely to be on the agenda – Benedict had a library of 200,000 books installed in the papal apartments when he was elected in 2005. He also enjoys playing the piano and watching old black-and-white comedies – and he loves cats. At least one, Contessina, is known to live at Mater Ecclesiae [the monastery inside the Vatican where Ratzi will live].

Here she is:

Contessa. Is she safe with the Pope?

Contessina. Is she safe with the Pope?

The article gives other fascinating details, like his title in retirement (“Pope Emeritus”; I am not kidding) and his retirement package (not much, but he’s free from prosecution!).

Addendum: The Pope likes all cats, but not all cats like the Pope:


h/t: Aaron, Sigmund


  1. Gregory Kusnick
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

    So I guess there’s at least one subject on which he is infallible.

    • Matt
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

      that wins the Internet for the day IMHO

  2. Prof.Pedant
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    It shows that cats are so cool that even ‘bad people’ like them!

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      I suppose you could paraphrase Steven Weinberg:

      “With or without religion, good people will like cats and bad people will dislike them. But for bad people to like cats–that takes religion.”

  3. Veroxitatis
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    Well, Hitler was considered to be very fond of dogs.

    • whyevolutionistrue
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      THAT is not a surprise!

      • Hempenstein
        Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

        Yeah, well, this dilemma serves you right.

      • Timothy Hughbanks
        Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

        So now the dog bigotry has gone Godwin.

  4. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    When I read the article, I thought: “Oh dear, how will Jerry Coyne feel about that?”, even before I thought “Oh dear, how do *I* feel about it?”

    Try thinking of him as that Bond villain who always had a cat on his knee.

    • Scote
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      …sounds about right.

      Pope, stroking white Persian cat, “No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die! Oh, and no gay marriage…”

      I’ll take a moggie. The Pope probably keeps his Evil Villain Persian hidden away in the library where they keep all the secret records, such as the alleged gay priest/blackmail scandal report… 😮

      • Posted February 26, 2013 at 4:33 pm | Permalink

        Pedant alert:

        That quote was Goldfinger, he didn’t have a cat, he loved only gold.

        Blofeld might have said “I shall look forward personally to excommunicating you, Mr. Bond!” (You only tithe twice)


        “O’Brien, my dear. We’re showing a bit more cheek than usual, aren’t we?” (Dioceses aren’t for ever after all)

        • lisa
          Posted February 26, 2013 at 8:52 pm | Permalink

          I had just about recovered from the ‘tummy ‘flu’, but reading this, I’m back to clutching my belly and groaning. As for Contessina, she looks to be in fine fettle. When or if she feels threatened by Emeritus, I would bet on her to NOT be the one left bleeding. No worries for her.
          I imagine that you understand why it was history and not science that turned me from the church.

          • Graham
            Posted February 27, 2013 at 2:11 am | Permalink

            ‘Emeritus’ would be a great name for a cat.

        • Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:19 am | Permalink


  5. Posted February 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    How handy that he can be declared exempt from prosecution. How many cardinals will be desperate to get the job if that little feature comes as standard?

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:09 pm | Permalink

      Surely his freedom from prosecution was on account of his having diplomatic immunity as Head of a sovereign state. If he wishes to remain free from prosecution he can do so only by remaining within Vatican City or Casle Gandolfo which is a detached part of the State. I would doubt that Vatican City State has extradition treaties with any countries but I have not looked into that. Somehow, I doubt he will be doing any travelling.

      • John Scanlon, FCD
        Posted February 27, 2013 at 10:06 am | Permalink

        The idea of Vatican sovereignty hasn’t been tested much, being based on a ‘treaty’ with Mussolini. I recommend Geoffrey Robertson’s The Case of the Pope for a historical and legal analysis of the supposed statehood and immunity, and of course the very strong case for chucking them aside and prosecuting the creep in an international court for human rights abuses.

        • Veroxitatis
          Posted February 28, 2013 at 8:46 am | Permalink

          Thanks for this heads up. I shall add it to my constantly expanding River list. I must say however that I had always understood Statehood to derive from de jure recognition of a territorial entity by other States (ie. the Community of Nations)

  6. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:00 pm | Permalink

    … interesting . But why is he free from prosecution?

    • Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:10 pm | Permalink

      Because he is the Head of State of the pseudo-nation of the Holy See (IANAL, but IIRC heads of state enjoy some degree of immunity, except I assume for really major crimes against humanity).

      • Veroxitatis
        Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

        The Holy See is a completely different legal entity from Vatican City State.

        • Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

          According to Wikipedia, the Holy See also has some sort of sovereign status, which actually precedes that of Vatican City. Diplomatic accreditation (both incoming and outgoing) accrues to the former rather than the latter. It’s all very confusing (as well as ridiculous that either of them exist at all).

      • John Kruger
        Posted February 27, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

        Why so much of the world is so eager to uphold that deal the RCC made with Mussolini is really beyond me.

  7. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    The Pope likes cats because he, too, is a “rat zinger”!

    If only it were true. The Pope leaves behind a Church full of rats, many of whom he has protected from the prosecution they so richly deserve. It is a travesty of both legal and moral justice and gives the lie to any notion that morality and humane behavior depend on an imaginary being and those presumed by the faithful to have the beings ear. No wonder the ranks of believers are thinning steadily.

  8. E.A. Blair
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    Funny that a priest who is terrified of pussy likes cats.

    • Veroxitatis
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      LOL. I hope Contessina doesn’t get up to any lesbian activity. On the other hand the Pope may be unaware of such acts and perhaps as with Queen Victoria’s courtiers, none of his staff has had the courage to enlighten him.
      (Note:- it is said that this was the reason why homosexual acts but not lesbian acts were illegal in England)

    • Marella
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:48 am | Permalink


  9. Herro
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Well, according to islamic stories, Muhammed was also kittie-fan

  10. Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Well Jerry, I can’t imagine the cognitive dissonance you’d suffer if the old pope hung up his red slippers for cowboy boots.

  11. Sarah
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 3:30 pm | Permalink

    I like the idea of cats going about their business at the Vatican–catching mice, grooming themselves, lying in the sun–bringing a little class to the old stone quarry.

  12. R.W.
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Why would it surprise anyone that he likes cats? After all, if it weren’t for Ceiling Cat’s blessings, there’d be no papacy.

  13. palefury
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:25 pm | Permalink

    Nice to know that he does have at least one redeeming attribute.

  14. quiscalus
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    “Pope Emeritus”? why not pedophile-protector emeritus?

    and here’s a thinker, forgive me if it’s been covered before, but: no cats in the bible? well, I mean, excepting the word “god”, I don’t think there are any mentioned.

    • JohnnieCanuck
      Posted February 26, 2013 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      Had to google it for myself. Not in the KJV and similar translations. Lions and leopards, yes, but no domesticated cats mentioned.

      However, should you happen to acknowledge the Catholic Bible with its extra seven books, then yes. In Baruch 6:21 not only do bats and birds alight on the statues of the Babylonian gods, but cats as well. o.O Serious dissing there!

      Found this here where it also speculates that the Israelites were prejudiced against them because the Egyptians liked cats.

      • lkr
        Posted February 27, 2013 at 9:59 am | Permalink

        Speculate as you wish. Since the Captivity appears to be entirely mythical, so is this. The Israelites had major, losing tussles with all the ancient powers EXCEPT the Egyptians….

        • JohnnieCanuck
          Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:55 am | Permalink

          Just so we’re straight here, I reported Mucha’s tale, gave a link and labelled it as speculation.

          I’m quite aware of the lack of evidence for the Captivity, the Plagues, the Exodus and the Wandering Years, thank you.

          Given your permission to speculate as I wish, then I can only surmise you were in such a rush to comment you failed to consider who it was that needed your correction.

    • Sarah
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 4:15 am | Permalink

      And lo, there came among them a Cat, and Jesus spake unto it, saying, “What wilst thou, Cat?” and the Cat sayeth, “You can keep the loaves, I’ve just come for the fish.”

  15. Gordon Munro
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 7:18 pm | Permalink

    I fear “free ham” infallibly reflects the humoristic value of this site’s catty (more than “slightly” anti-)Papal retirement induced commetary.

  16. BilBy
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    ‘Contessina’ as in Contessina de Medici? The Medici family that produced 3 (?) Popes. Gosh, he just has to keep reminding everyone he’s the Pope (soon to be Emeritus) doesn’t he?

    • Alektorophile
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 6:25 am | Permalink

      Four popes, if memory serves me right. Contessina is just a diminuitive of contessa, i.e. “Little countess”. Like “principessina”, i.e. Little princess, it is not such an unusual name for pets (or term of endearment for kids).

  17. Posted February 26, 2013 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    As told to me by a female Jewish Rabbi (<<< is that possible/right??) about thirty years ago, the Jewish dilemma was…

    "Pork on Sale".

    Same effect.

    "Imagine, you order a baked apple, and look what they bring you!!" That was one of the best.

    • Bonzodog
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 4:38 am | Permalink

      Oh yes … very possible among the more liberal Jewish synagogues. In fact, here in the UK we have a very distinguished female rabbi:,_Baroness_Neuberger

    • Diane G.
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

      “…Jewish Rabbi (<<< is that possible/right??)"

      Is there another kind?

      • JohnnieCanuck
        Posted February 28, 2013 at 2:36 am | Permalink

        Quote mining for humour, I presume?

        • Diane G.
          Posted February 28, 2013 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

          No offense intended!


          • JohnnieCanuck
            Posted February 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm | Permalink


            I thought it was clever humour. Guess I could have been more clear that I was trying to add to the humour.

            • Diane G.
              Posted February 28, 2013 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

              Sorry, JC (hmmmm). Saw the term “quote mining” and lost my sense of humor. Note to self–think first, then type.

  18. Uommibatto
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 8:21 pm | Permalink


  19. Posted February 26, 2013 at 11:40 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Colbert’s response to the news that the former pope would be “pope emeritus”, and that thus there would be two popes, was that we would be “One pope over the line, sweet Jesus, one pope over the line.”

    • Marta
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

      Oy! That made me laugh, but good.

  20. Marella
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    It just goes to show that no one is all bad.

  21. Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:18 am | Permalink

    Is the Pope a Cataholic?

  22. Dominic
    Posted February 27, 2013 at 2:26 am | Permalink

    good/bad – meaningless terms!

    Perhaps he is a ‘nice’ bloke – just deluded.

    • dongiovanni
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:05 am | Permalink

      Well, he’s running the show. I think he’s well and truly culpable by now. Once you dig a certain depth into catholic doctrine being delusional is not really an option.

  23. Posted February 27, 2013 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Hmmm, we are assuming that cats are great and the Pope’s affection for them is a chink in his evil armor. Why not assume that cats are evil and therefore this is nothing out of character for the Pope?

    Will I be kicked off this website now?

    • Sarah
      Posted February 27, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Bad-mouthing cats is the only real heresy.

  24. Posted February 27, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    Jesus: “Hello Ratzy, I have another revelation for you.”

    Ratzy: “Jesus I told you, I’m retired now. You’ll want the other guy.”

    Jesus: “Oh yeah, sorry. But I’ll give you the heads up anyway. In about two weeks, it will no longer be a mortal sin to masturbate. Enjoy your retirement!”

    • Posted February 27, 2013 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

      Years back (probably ~1966) there was a New Yorker cartoon of Hell, with a demon asking the Devil:

      “Hey Boss, what are we going to do with all the people who ate meat on Friday?”

      • Posted February 27, 2013 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

        +1 – I’ll have to remember that one!

      • Margaret
        Posted February 28, 2013 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

        Does eating a Jesus cracker count as eating meat?

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