Papal Eligibility?

OK, so last night I’m reading the Code of Canon Law (the newest one - 1983) and there’s an Apostolic Constitution about how to go about electing a new Pope.

The AC makes one point that I’ve known for a while - you don’t have to be a Cardinal or even a Bishop to be elected Pope… but it didn’t address the ‘minimum’ requirements and a Google search of “papal eligibility” came up short too.

So does anyone know the minimum requirements to become Pope? Do you have to be, at least, an ordained priest? Could a lay brother become Pope? Could someone at the ‘low end’ of Holy Orders (non-ordained) become Pope? Or can you be from among the common rabble?


P.S. I read the “How does one become Pope?” in the archives here, but whomever wrote it is dead wrong about having to be a Bishop, Archbishop or even a Cardinal to be elected Pope…


Theoretically, any catholic male can be elected Pope.
Hasn’t happened in hundreds of years. (of course, before JPII all popes were Italian for hundreds of years)


clarification: I mean that a non-Cardinal becoming Pope hasn’t happened in a long while.


From the online Catholic Encyclopaedia.

So yes, in theory, a layman could be elected pope.

The Code of Canon Law, Can. 332 §1 provides:

Can. 378 lists various requirements for a suitable candidate for the episcopate, among them being outstanding in strong faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence and human virtues, being at least 35 years old, and being an ordained priest for at least five years. However, the canon also provides that the definitive judgment on the suitability of the person to be promoted rests with the Apostolic See. From this I conclude that none of those requirements are mandatory.

Of course, it’s reserved to the Holy See to waive those requirements, and in this case, the Holy See would be vacant.

I doubt that we’ll see this tested, since the odds are overwhelming that the election of a new Pope will fall to a man already consecrated a Bishop. But I could make an argument that the eligibility of a new Pope is defined by the strictures of Can. 378.

  • Rick

However, the Catholic Encyclopedia dates back to 1912. The rules could have changed in that time.

I did check the Catholic Encyclopedia but things HAVE changed since 1912 (the two-thirds plus one, for instance; the number of Cardinal’s etc.). And since Canon Law had changed, I wasn’t sure if the statement that one of the laity (well, MALE laity) could be elected Pope was still true.

You might have a good point there - that a candidate for the Papacy must be 35 years old and a priest for five years. I know that there is a clause for the College of Cardinals to act in place of the See in dire emergencies (I’d have to look it up for the exact wording - I wish I had the CIC on CD-ROM…) should the See be vacant, so I suppose that these requirements could be waived as well.

I just need something to do with all my spare time and I think I’d make a pretty good Pope…


Not excatly. Can. 359 provides that when the Apostolic See is vacant, the College of Cardinals has only that power in the Church which is granted to it by special law. I can find no specific law entitling the College to dispense with the requirements for episcopal ordination.

This is consistent with the general proposition is that no innovation or dramatic change be made during any see’s vacancy (Can. 428). For example, the diocesan administrator wields only the power of a vicar general (Can. 426) and is forbidden from taking any action that would prejudice the rights of the diocese or the Bishop.

Well, the first step step is the seminary… :slight_smile:

  • Rick