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In the case of certain periods of turbulence in the Roman Catholic Church uncanonical elections have set up claimants to the Papacy, and usually in opposition to a specific pope. The earliest of these, Hippolytus[?], was elected in protest against Pope Callixtus I by a schismatic group in the city of Rome in the 3rd century. Hippolytus ended his life, however, in exile during Roman imperial persecution in the mines on the island of Sardinia in the company of Callixtus's successor Pope Pontian, and was reconciled to the Catholic Church.

The late 14th and early 15th century saw a series of rival popes elected, one line of which is counted by the Roman Catholic Church as popes and the other as antipopes. The scandal of multiple claimants added to the demands for reform that produced the Protestant Reformation at the turn of the 16th century. See Great Schism, Pope Benedict XIII.

There has not been an antipope since 1449 - more recent schisms like the Church of England are controlled by lay sovereigns who do not want to have an ecclesiastical rival or begin like the Old Catholic Church in a rejection of a primary dogma of the papacy.

A few breakaway Catholics today, called sedevacantists, claim the current Popes are heretics for replacing the Tridentine Latin Mass with what they call the Novus Ordo Mass and allowing the celebration of the Mass in the vernacular. Some of them have their own popes to replace the popes they reject, but we should not consider them antipopes within the traditional sense because the number of their followers, in comparison to the size of the following of the generally accepted Popes, is minuscule. However for reasons of clarity, two such figures are described as antipopes below.

Hergenröther enumerates thirty antipopes:

Alexander III[?], Dioscorus[?] (d. 530), and John XXIII (1370-1419) are also considered antipopes.

Among modern Twenty-first century anti-popes are:

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