ASK FATHER: Who can be elected Pope?

From a reader…


Can a male catholic who has not been ordained to the priesthood become Pope?


The prerequisites are that he be

1) male, because he must become Bishop of Rome, and it is impossible for females to be given or for them to receive the Sacrament of Orders.
2) sui compos, because he must understand the question he is asked at his election and then express his consent.

Most authors think that he has to be baptized, though it seems possible that he has to at least be willing to be baptized (otherwise he could not also be ordained). Also, some author think that he cannot be a manifest heretic or schismatic, which seems reasonable, but not all writers think that’s a deal-breaker.

He doesn’t have to be smart or, it seems, wise, holy, kind, any of those things which we would prefer.

It has been hundreds of years since a non-Cardinal was elected. However, when and if such a thing would happen, were the man who was elected (probably brought into the conclave) to assent, he would have to be ordained immediately. The election of a non-bishop would be valid, but he wouldn’t be Roman Pontiff in the full sense until the moment he became a bishop.

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  1. Peregrinator says:

    I think Gregory XVI was the last non-bishop to be elected Pope (he was a Cardinal, however).

  2. Thomas S says:

    Also, some author think that he cannot be a manifest heretic or schismatic, which seems reasonable, but not all writers think that’s a deal-breaker.

    *Avoids snark and wishes Merry Christmas to all.*

  3. YoungLatinMassGuy says:

    So… That means there’s still a chance this simple Latin Mass Attending Layman can be elected Pope!

  4. Kathleen10 says:

    The comparison to Obama is irresistible. Here came a man, only an American senator of four months, before he began his presidential run to become leader of the free world. He accomplished nothing as senator, there had been no mass clamor for him to campaign as president, except the financial support and apparent grooming by very powerful and wealthy leftist donors. His record when senator, what little there was, demonstrated a radically far left inclination. He was the most extreme abortion supporter, voting on the radical left of most Democrats (then) by voting for full-term abortion, something few supported at that time.
    He came out of virtual nowhere, was inserted into American politics, petted and groomed, and went on to convince many Americans that if they voted for him they voted for hope and change, never defined. The people drooled at the idea of voting for a “post-racial president”. The media aided and abetted him by asking him only questions about his little girls, his wife, or his dog. He served the insiders in ways we will not find out about for probably 50 years, but which we may suspect looking at the deterioration of America today.

  5. Hidden One says:

    Quaero: Would the rite(s) of ordination of a priest, deacon, or lay male just elected pope differ from the norm, and if so, how? [Only in the speed with which they would be conferred. Although, I suppose if a traditionally leaning layman were elected, he could require the Extraordinary Form with the older Pontifical.]

  6. Simon_GNR says:

    According to Wikipedia:
    – the last non-cardinal to be elected Pope was Urban VI in 1378. He was an archbishop at the time of his election.
    – the last non-bishop to be elected Pope was Gregory XVI in 1831. He was a cardinal priest at the time of his election.
    – the last non-priest to be elected Pope was Leo X in 1513. He was a cardinal deacon at the time of his election. He was ordained priest on 15th March 1513, consecrated bishop on 17th March and crowned Pope on 19th March.

  7. The election of a non-bishop would be valid, but he wouldn’t be Roman Pontiff in the full sense until the moment he became a bishop.

    So, em father, I take it that a Married Layman wouldn’t be able to fully wield the papacy because he cannot be ordained, er, by your comment … Perhaps could he then make a motu proprio that changes the law in his instance that he is pope in such a circumstance to fulfill the Papacy?

    [No. A married man could be elected. However, at that point he would have to stop living more uxorio.]

  8. Pastor in Valle says:

    Yes—I was going to make a similar comment to Julian Barkin above. One wonders what would have to happen if a married man were, hypothetically, to be elected. There have been examples in the past of husbands and wives separating to permit the man to be ordained priest—Pierce and Cornelia Connolly being but one example, and indeed the proposal was made to Catherine of Aragon to enter a convent to permit Henry VIII to marry Anne Boleyn. But the woman has to be willing, of course: presumably, then, a woman could actually effectively veto the papal election by refusing to release her husband. If he had first accepted the papacy, that too would be an interesting conundrum: would he be reckoned Benedict XVII among the popes until his wife said no, and then be said to have abdicated? Or could he simply change the rules and move his wife and children into the Apostolic Palace?

  9. MattH says:

    The scenario has happened that a person was elected Pope but not ordained. In 752, a priest names Stephen was elected Pope. He died before being ordained a bishop. My understanding is that the Vatican does not count him as having ever been Pope, because you logically may not be Bishop of Rome if you are not a Bishop.

    As to any future situations in which a non-Bishop might be elected, Canon 332 states “The Roman Pontiff acquires full and supreme power in the Church when, together with episcopal consecration, he has been lawfully elected and has accepted the election. Accordingly, if he already has the episcopal character, he receives this power from the moment he accepts election to the supreme pontificate. If he does not have the episcopal character, he is immediately to be ordained Bishop.” That is, if you have already been ordained to the episcopate and are elected Pope, your Papacy commences on accepting the office. So the two conditions are accepting election and being a Bishop. I presume, then, that a non-Bishop elected to the Papacy is not Pope until ordained a Bishop.

    So, for Mr. Barkin or Pastor in Valle’s hypothetical married man elected Pope, he is not Pope until ordained a Bishop… so he has no authority to make himself an exception to any of the rules. If he refuses ordination, he never becomes Pope – there would be no abdication and he would never be on the list of Popes because, I think, he would never have been Pope. If he is unwilling to be ordained within a reasonable period of time, either for his own reasons or because his wife objects, I assume the Cardinals would just go back and elect someone else. For example, in other situations where a church office is elected by a body of people, Canon 177 provides that if the person elected does not accept or reject the office in eight days, the election has no effect. Again, I think the man in question would simply be omitted from lists of Popes, as he never took office.

    I assume that to avoid the whole question of whether the wife’s consent would be needed, [It would not be needed.] the Cardinals would never elect a married man. But I’ll just throw out there that if they elect me, I’m going to ask them to ordain me to the subdiaconate before deacon, priest, and bishop.

  10. Sieber says:

    Since we are playing with theory: Could not a married layman accept election to the papacy. attain episcopacy, be confirmed as pope and then dispense himself from celibacy?

  11. (X)MCCLXIII says:

    Wife’s consent not needed, eh? So there’s still some hope. I often wonder.

  12. Geoffrey says:

    In such a hypothetical situation, would the individual also have to be instituted a lector and then an acolyte before ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, and episcopacy?

  13. gracie says:

    “I assume that to avoid the whole question of whether the wife’s consent would be needed (It would not be needed.)

    If that’s true, then the Catholic Sacrament of Matrimony is a farce.

  14. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    “Most authors think that he has to be baptized, though it seems possible that he has to at least be willing to be baptized (otherwise he could not also be ordained).”

    For some time I was inclined to hold simply for -willing to be baptized-, for obvious reasons. Now, I wonder, though, whether he need already be baptized in order to accept ecclesiastical office, which he does upon accepting election (the restraint being on the exercise of office, but even that gets messy real quick). Still interesting question for some time, eh? Joyeaux Noel, mon Pere.

  15. The Masked Chicken says:

    Just as long as the Pope can have a chicken as mascot and not merely dinner, I’m cool :)

    Actually, we’ve had the marriage situation come up, before. Of course, St. Peter was (probably) a widower…

    The Chicken

  16. Imrahil says:

    The precedent of St. Ambrose makes clear that he need not have been baptized. For obvious reasons, he needs, however, to be willing to be baptized. (Yes, St. Ambrose was not pope but bishop. But as to this, the same principles and thus the same applications hold.)

    The elect is not Pope in the full sense until episcopal consecration (though he is before the inaugurational mass, if bishop). But, as the Church always has held, he has already full jurisdictional power upon accepting his election – provided that he is baptized. An unbaptized man can absolutely not have any jurisdiction within the Body of Christ.

    I think a case could be made that the Pope-elect must, even as to validity, have attained use of reason, and that the College, if electing one neither Cardinal nor bishop, is bound under grave sin (though not under invalidity) to elect a man to whom can. 378 applies, or at least its formal, easily-checkable parts (35 years of age, 5 years priest, doctor or licentiate, reputation at least not damaged by very public scandal).

    As for married Popes… I initially thought that, as the College does not, or at least not clearly, has the power to dispense from celibacy, that the Pope-elect must be unmarried (or already a bishop, in which case the dispensation by the former Pope applies, in just the way it was issued).

    But then, not-electing married men to episcopate, or for that matter priesthood, is a rather practical thing in the Church. The original thing, which by way of dispensation is still possible, was for married priests and bishops to cease use-of-marriage. The Church introduced celibacy (understood in the strict sense) mainly (though not only) as a practical means to have priests without use-of-marriage, and probably – though celibacy, even in the strict sense, is still the norm – the College could dispense from this.

    In which case, however – apologies, Father – the new Pope cannot validly accept his election without the assent of his wife. His body belongs to his wife, and he cannot give it away without asking her. [No. Wrong.]

    He can, though, dispense himself from continence… afterwards. The only real limit to papal power is divine and natural law. But I doubt he is allowed to accept, and make his wife accept, only in the understanding that he’ll be doing away with that continence thing anyway in a second.

  17. Matt Robare says:

    Would they also have to be at least 35 to be pope? That’s the current minimum age to become a bishop. I realize that there have been popes as young as 18, but that was under an earlier iteration of Canon Law and the political, financial and carnal domination of Rome by the Theophylacti.

  18. jameeka says:

    Just to be absolutely clear, genetically MALE, correct? Hope this is completely spelled out somewhere, not able to be surgically/chemically altered?

  19. AnnTherese says:

    Thankfully, we now have a Pope who is “smart, wise, holy, kind,” etc.!

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