Pope Francis, the 86-year-old leader of the Catholic Church, is an unconventionally laidback dresser. He has habitually eschewed the sacred red slippers and ermine trim of his predecessors. In 2017, Vatican tailors and cobblers who’d been dressing popes for generations told the Catholic news site Crux that Francis’ understated style—his preference for what one might call “papal athleisure”—was throwing them for a loop.
So when an image of Pope Francis dressed in a Jet-Puffed, winter-white, ankle-length hooded down jacket went viral over the weekend, it was understandable that many people thought it was real. A silver cross hung down to his chest. The zucchetto perched atop his head might as well have been a little rolled-up beanie. Plus a puffy coat seems practical; it can get pretty wintry up there in Vatican City. And hey, it’s 2023 and Francis is, after all, the Athleisure Pope. And popes, no matter how frugal, still live in the gilded swag realm that is Roman Catholicism.
The image, of course, was very much not real. It was created by a 31-year-old Chicago man named Pablo Xavier using Midjourney, an artificial intelligence image generator. Xavier told Buzzfeed News that he felt moved to write the Midjourney prompt for the image while he was tripping on shrooms: “I try to do funny stuff or trippy art—psychedelic stuff. It just dawned on me: I should do the Pope. Then it was just coming like water: ‘The Pope in Balenciaga puffy coat, Moncler, walking the streets of Rome, Paris,’ stuff like that,” Xavier said. Afterwards, he posted it on the Midjourney subreddit under the title “The Pope Drip.”
“It’s just benign enough to be plausibly real,” the Reddit user supervegeta101 commented on the post. “Catholic church is super rich, he’s not as orthodox or old as other Pope’s [sic]… I could see Francis having mad drip.”