Pope Joan film sparks Roman Catholic Church row

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A new film based on the legend of Pope Joan – an Englishwoman who purportedly disguised herself as a man and rose to become the only female pontiff in history – has sparked debate in the Roman Catholic Church.

The film has fuelled disagreements over whether Pope Joan really existed or, as the Church has always maintained, she was a mythical figure used by the early Protestant Church to discredit and embarrass Rome.

For a Church that even in the 21st century remains staunchly opposed to the idea of female priests, a female Pope was anathema.

But proponents of the story point out that papal records are almost non-existent in the 10th and 11th centuries and that even male popes are barely documented.

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