Oh, puh-leeze. It's FICTION, ladies. Yes, I am quite aware of the "legend" of this supposed Pope. First, there never was a woman pope. The old story of Pope Joan is sometimes used to suggest otherwise, but this legend has been thoroughly discredited. The appendix to The Oxford Dictionary of the Popes (written by a Protestant, J. N. D. Kelly) says the legend of a woman pope "scarcely needs painstaking refutation today, for not only is there no contemporary evidence for a female pope at any of the dates suggested for her reign, but the known facts of the respective periods makes it impossible to fit one in."
Oh... puh-leeze... we're just all so stupid, aren't we. Someday, a few generations from now, I'm sure the sex abuse scandal will just be "legend" too! I think it's impossible to say that there either was or was not a female pope. We just don't have the answer to that - thus, the debate. While it's been thoroughly discredited by some, it's been just as equally well-researched and supported by others. That's the beauty of this country... you get to think what you want based on what you read for yourself. As firm as you are in your belief there wasn't a Pope Joan... I enjoy my security in believing there was. Cheers.
Whether or not there really was a female pope does not discredit the very intriguing story--which is written as fiction. Just as "The DaVinci Code" was based on truth or legend, it makes no difference in the readibility of the story. I had heard the story a few years ago and while traveling in Italy the tour guide pointed out to us the road on which Joan made her infamous ride at the end of her papacy. Usually these legends are based on some truth. I may never know what the truth is but I thought it was a great story, well written and researched and I can't wait to see the movie version.
I think it's possible. A female pope would have been embarassing to the Catholic Church. There are also significant "practical" implications of female clergy for the Catholic church - services and communions would have been invalid, confessions made to her would be invalid, those who she read the last rites to would have in fact died unshriven. It makes sense to "pretend" it never happened to avoid dealing with all of those difficult questions. It would have made sense to cover it up and treat her papacy as if it never happened (and it never DID happen if you believe that she was never a Priest and never a Pope because all of the ceremonies that made it such would have been invalid), and possibly fudge the dates of the beginning and ends of the prior and subsequent popes in order to avoid a Pope-less "hole." This way, the Church doesn't have to confront difficult questions. History is fluid - it is part truth at best, depending on who keeps the records. Records are generally kept by men, probably ones who are powerful enough to want to avoid embarassment from unpleasant details.