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Who can be elected pope?

February 13, 2013

It’s been more than 500 years since a non-cardinal was elected pope, but then, it’s been more than 500 years since a pope resigned, so, one moves cautiously to our question, who is eligible to be elected pope?

Turns out, lots of people.

Canon 332 § 1 of the 1983 Code simply states that one already a bishop (nb: not necessarily a cardinal) who accepts legitimate papal election becomes pope immediately. One who is not yet a bishop (and the Church has elected several non-bishops to the papacy) can accept election, but must be immediately consecrated bishop. By implication, that would seem to require that a papabile (a) be male, and be willing (b) to be baptized, (c) ordained deacon, priest, and bishop, and (d) have the use of reason in order to accept election and, if necessary, holy orders.

Or does it?

Skirting close to some important ecclesiological questions about ecclesiastical power and holy orders, the standard authors elaborate on the above-cited qualifications. In presenting them, allow me to underscore that canon law is an international legal system:

Capello, Summa (1951) I: 278: “Valide potest eligi quilibet vir, qui sit sui compos, capax acceptandi, membrum Ecclesiae, etiam laicus; licite qui omnibus qualitatibus praeditus sit, ita ut inter omnes dignior censeatur.

Sipos, Enchirdion (1954) 153: “Eligi potest quodlibet masculinum, usu rationis pollens, membrum Ecclesiae. Invalide ergo eligerentur foeminae, infantes, habituali amentia laborantes, non baptizati, haeretici, schismatici.”

(Claeys-Boùùaert), Traité (1954) I: 375: “Sont éligibles tous ceux qui, de droit divin ou ecclésiastique, ne sont pas exclus. Sont exclus les femmes, les enfants, les déments, les non baptizés, les hérétiques et les schismatiques. Un laïque peut être élu validement. Il convient toutefois que l’élu soit pris parmi les cardinaux.”

Eichmann-Mörsdorf, Kirchenrecht (1959) I: 356: “Über die Wählbarkeit fehlen nähere Bestimmungen. Grundsätzlich kann jedes männliche, vernunftbegabte Kirchenglied gewählt werden, also auch ein Laie.”

Abbo-Hannan, Sacred Canons (1960) I: 284-285: “For the validity of the papal election it suffices that the candidate elected be of the male sex, a baptized Catholic, capable of accepting the election and of exercising the jurisdiction attached to the office. For its lawfulness, that candidate must be elected who is considered the best qualified.”

(Alonso-Lobo), Comentarios (1963) I: 565: “Por derecho divino es elegible cualquier varón bautizado que tenga el uso de razón suficiente para aceptar la elección y ejercer la potestad de jurisdicción, aunque no sea todavía clérigo; de todas formas, los Cardenales no pueden elegir lícitamente a cualquiera, sino que deben fijarse en el que crean más digno.”

Interesting. Most commentators consider being a baptized (indeed, baptized Catholic) male with the use of reason as necessary for the validity of the election itself. So, one’s capacity and willingness to be ordained suffices for validity of election, but not one’s willingness to be baptized and ordained. I wonder what it is about being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ at the time of election that has most commentators talking about it impacting the validity of election? Hmmm.

Oh well, it’s going to be a cardinal, so the question’s moot.

Most likely.

Added: A couple folks, pursuing every rabbit trail (I mean that as a compliment), have asked whether a married man is eligible for the papacy. Answer, yes! Married men were ordained, even to the episcopate, in the ancient Church. Of course, they ceased living as married men upon reception of the diaconate (let alone priesthood and episcopate) but, cessation of conjugal living does not dissolve or annul one’s marriage, so, yes, a married man could be elected pope. That said, I think the odds are against that happening. :)

Added: List of Current Eligible Papal Electors

Added: VIS confirms today that the conclave will not start until March 15, at the earliest. This is how I read UDG; it seems the pope does not wish to derogate from it. Also, Fr. Lombardi notes that the “period” sede vacante begins March 1. This is correct, even though the Apostolic See is canonically vacant as of 8 PM the night before, for the “period” of a situation does not begin until the first full day thereof. Oddity of canonical computation of time (c. 203), that.

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