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Al Martinez

If you don't dig the humor in transubstantiation, you probably won't understand 'Is the Pope Catholic?' : We're Having Fun Now

May 07, 1987|Al Martinez

This is not a fun era, and anything that will create the illusion of fun is good news indeed.

The Bag Lady doll, for instance, is making homelessness seem fun.

In that same spirit of joie de vivre we have a new game on the market called "Is the Pope Catholic?"

It was created by a Studio City psychotherapist and his psychotherapist brother, both of whom are products of a Catholic upbringing, with all of its attendant fear, guilt, ritualism and absolute certainty that you will end up in hell before your 17th birthday if you keep playing with your body.

The idea of the game is to hop around a rosary bead board and up a papal ladder to the position of Pope. Anyone can win, of course, although we prefer a male European bishop over the age of 70.

On the way to the papacy, one is either helped or hindered by grace or sin cards designed to simultaneously tighten competition and squeeze laughs from the competitors.

A grace card, for instance, says: "You have just completed a prayerful vigil during the Forty Hours Devotions. Get off your knees, stretch your legs and advance to the next indulgence."

A sin card says: "You lit two votive candles and paid for them with slugs. How low can you get? Hang your head and go back to Venial City."

All that may not seem hilarious to you, but it has them rolling in the bingo rooms down at old St. Jeremy's.

I'm not a game person myself, but I make an effort to understand those who, lacking the wit to otherwise amuse themselves, employ artificial means to pass the time.

So I spoke ex cathedra with Richard Crowley of Studio City who, with his brother, created what they refer to casually as "Pope."

Richard describes himself as an inactive Catholic, which probably means he decided upon reaching adulthood that confessing his sins to a man in a box did not necessarily guarantee him speedy transport on the highway to heaven.

He is 44, tall, slim, good-looking and wears his hair in a tight perm, which is de rigueur for shrinks practicing in Southern California. A gold chain around his neck? That too.

Brother John, who is three years older, is still a devout Catholic and has his psychotherapy practice in Fort Wayne, Ind.

Since I haven't met John I'm not sure what he's like. I suppose, however, it's safe to assume that, living in Fort Wayne, he neither wears his hair in a tight perm nor sports a gold chain around his neck--unless, of course, it's a rosary bead chain.

Richard is involved in many projects, including a comic book for abused children and a weight-loss videocassette.

He also writes books, lectures on pain control, acts as a consultant to a television cartoon show and creates stories that helps stop kids from wetting the bed.

One story, for example, involves a little elephant who keeps spilling water from his bucket and a camel who shows him how to hold his water (get it?) across the desert.

I can appreciate that kind of symbolism even though it has been years since I wet the bed. I'll think about the little camel as I slide into the incontinence of old age.

The brothers Crowley began talking about their fun game in 1971 over a bottle of sacramental wine, at which time everything seemed funny and witty and wise, and continued talking about it over the next several years, with and without wine.

They plotted strategy and spacing for the game even after moving from the family home in Boston to Studio City and Fort Wayne, paying $400 monthly telephone bills and considerably more in airline transportation costs to do so.

Financial backing for their idea simply did not exist.

"We discovered," Richard says, "that everyone has a game idea to sell. There are doggie games, fire engine games, firemen games . . . you name it."

But they were serious enough about "Pope" to pony up $27,000 apiece to get 5,000 copies of the game manufactured on their own. And here we are.

They have been told by skeptics that they will sell 30 of the games and the rest will end up in their garages, but Richard thinks otherwise.

"There are 52 million Catholics in the United States," he says, "and many of them have money. We're going after them."

They've tried "Pope" on several priests who found it fun, Richard says, but then priests generally have very little else to call fun and may not be the best ones to judge what having a good time consists of.

Richard is probably correct in assuming that the game is more for Catholics than for anyone else. If you don't dig the humor in transubstantiation, for instance, you probably won't understand "Pope."

Notwithstanding its limitations, however, I hope the game makes the brothers a bundle. Why should the Vatican have it all?

Dominus providebit, baby, but get a little on your own too.

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