When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first set foot on the Moon, it probably didn’t occur to them that there was a complete lack of religious infrastructure and priests.
However, if they felt compelled to convert to Catholicism and then go to confession, it appears the Catholic Church had them covered. It turns out that a Moon priest has been assigned to take care of the religious needs of any Moon people since the first humans set foot on the Moon.
You, as a reader of science websites, may be wondering why an empty satellite needs its own bishop. The Moon Bishop, currently Bishop John Noonan, is the result of a cryptic rule in the 1917 Code of Canon Law. According to the rule, any newly discovered land becomes part of the diocese from which the expedition set out.
As a result, the territory of “Moon” fell under the jurisdiction of the Diocese of Orlando, from which Apollo 11 launched. William Donald Borders became the first Moon Bishop.
If you are unimpressed with this obscure law creating the position of Moon Bishop, so was the actual Pope. Bishop Borders, following the moon mission, had an audience with Pope Paul VI, in which he reportedly told him “you know, Holy Father, I am the bishop of the Moon”. The Pope was briefly baffled, before Borders went into the context.
Of course, the bishop’s workload is unaffected by his title. It “means nothing if there is no one to have jurisdiction over,” according to Father John Giel, the Diocese of Orlando’s chancellor for Canonical Affairs.
“Since we have yet to find any life on the Moon, the story only emphasizes Bishop Border’s good and humorous nature that allowed him to be such a good first bishop for central Florida.”