What is Papaphobia?

Papaphobia is the abnormal and persistent fear of the Pope, and it is related to hierophobia (fear of holy people or sacred things), ecclesiophobia (fear of church, organized religion or holy people), and hagiophobia (fear of saints or holy things).

The fear of the pope and the Catholic church may be linked to the major media scrutiny they have received over the years, as investigative journalists reveal scandals covered up by the church involving sexual abuse of young parishioners. In most of these cases, the priests and high-ranking clergymen involved in these scandals were revered and trusted members of their communities. The abuse of that trust and the possible backlash and disbelief from family members may have contributed to papaphobia. A fear of the pope may result from similar traumatic experience or being exposed to these incidences through media or someone the phobic personally knows.

The authority of the pope as the closest direct link to the Catholic God may be all-too powerful for some people. To some, the pope’s all-white garb may also be menacing. For religious phobics, papaphobia may interfere or affect their faith and their relationship with the community around which it is based. Papaphobia may illicit irrational feelings of guilt in phobics with religious upbringings.

Historically, the Catholic church was heavily involved in exacting punishment on those who were deemed heretics or in league with the Devil. From the Crusades to the Spanish Inquisition and Witch Trials, the fear of God necessarily meant the fear of the papacy. The culture of fear surrounding the Catholic church might have inspired the phobic’s fear. Not all papaphobes are Catholic or Christian, and you do not have to be a member of any religion to suffer from papaphobia.

The root word papa is Latin meaning “pope”.

If you know someone with an irrational fear of the pope, do not try to help them overcome their fear by exposing them to pictures, video, audio, or discussions about him. Do not attempt to seek council from another church authority on behalf of the papaphobe. While the phobic may acknowledge that their fear is “irrational,” this realization will not be enough of a reason to overcome their phobia. There are likely unresolved past traumas in which the pope or another church authority was involved, and exposing the phobic to the source of their fear may cause further trauma and feelings of guilt, shame, embarrassment, humiliation, and anger. Only a professional and experienced mental health practitioner should diagnose and treat a phobic.

Symptoms of Papaphobia

  • extreme anxiety, dread
  • shortness of breath
  • rapid breathing
  • heart palpitation
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • dry mouth
  • confusion / inability to articulate clearly
  • lack of focus
  • irritability
  • diarrhea
  • shaking
  • feelings of powerlessness
  • obsession with the subject of the phobia
  • fear or feelings of losing control
  • avoidance behavior
  • headaches

The phobic may experience some or all of these symptoms, and they may change over time. The severity of these symptoms depend on intensity of the person’s phobia.

Learn more about phobia symptoms

Causes of Papaphobia

Papaphobia can arise out of a fear of authority or a translated fear of a father figure. Church- or religion-related issues may also play a role even if not directly connected to the pope. For instance, the phobic may have perceived their own father as a figure of great exacting authority and piety.

Papaphobia is a specific (or “isolated”) phobia, centered on non-social key factors. Isolated phobias tend to have some previous trauma (often in childhood and often physically injurious) as a root cause; a fear of bees may stem from an injury in childhood, for instance.

Upbringing can also play a role, such as parental warnings about a direct threat (e.g.  “snakes can bite and kill you”) which is especially notable in cases where a threat is more imminent. An allergy to bees or peanut butter, for instance, would naturally reinforce a real medical concern.

It is thought that genetics and hereditary factors may play a role in specific phobias, especially those related to a danger of injury. A primal “fight or flight” reflex may be more easily triggered in those with a genetic predisposition, for instance.

By contrast, social phobias (like a fear of body odor or touch) are less well-understood, are driven by social anxiety and are broadly labeled as “social anxiety disorder”.

In all kinds of phobias, external experiences and / or reports can further reinforce or develop the fear, such as seeing a family member or friend who is affected. In extreme cases, indirect exposures can be as remote as overhearing a reference in conversation or seeing something on the news or on TV and movies.

Papaphobia, like most phobias, stems from a subconscious overprotection mechanism, and as with many phobias can also be rooted in an unresolved emotional conflict.

Learn more about the causes of phobias

Treatment for Papaphobia

  • Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • Habit strategies to relax
  • Cognitive therapy (CT)
  • In vivo exposure
  • Response prevention
  • Hypnotherapy
  • Group therapy
  • Psychotherapy
  • Energy Psychology
  • Medication
  • Meditation

As with all specific or isolated phobias, exposure therapy or cognitive behavioural therapy can significantly help a phobic to overcome their fear. Left untreated, papaphobia may interfere with the phobic’s life, especially if there are heavily involved in their religion. A mental health professional with experience in phobias will discuss various treatment options in order to find the right therapy program. Medication may be prescribed to treat papaphobia, however, it should only be considered a last resort, as it won’t cure the phobia, merely the symptoms.

Learn more about phobia treatments


Book Shelf

The list of books below are hand picked by the staff at Massive Phobia. It’s a mixture of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Habit Strategies, Trauma Healing, Mindfulness, Meditation, Buddhist Knowledge and Somatic Study. We hope you enjoy them as much as we did.