Colbert for pope? The surprising standards for the next Catholic leader
February 12th, 2013
06:00 AM ET

Colbert for pope? The surprising standards for the next Catholic leader

By Dan Merica, CNN
[twitter-follow screen_name='DanMericaCNN']

Washington (CNN) – With Pope Benedict XVI announcing his resignation on Monday, the leaders of the Catholic Church will soon meet to select the next person to lead the ever-changing church.

While it is likely that they will pick another voting member of the College of Cardinals - the 118 Catholic leaders younger than 80 will vote on who should lead the church - the standards for who can become pope are remarkably loose.

Any baptized man in good standing could be elected pope, according to canon law, a group of laws that guide the Catholic hierarchy. Women cannot be named pope because they are unable to become ordained priests in Catholicism.

So if the only standard is a baptized man in good standing with the church, there are millions of possible papal successors – including Speaker of the House John Boehner, rock star Bono and, yes, comedian Stephen Colbert.

The likelihood of that happening: not a chance.

“Oh I am a fan of Stephen Colbert,” laughed Charles J. Reid Jr., a professor of law at University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis. But “he doesn’t have a prayer.”

More likely selections, with admittedly less star power, run the gamut.

One name on the top of many lists is Cardinal Marc Ouellet, the former archbishop of Quebec and the head of the Catholic bishops worldwide. Some Catholics are angling for more Latin American representation in church leadership, and Ouellet taught school in Bogota, Colombia, early in his career.

“He has a credibility that can reach all corners of the church,” Reid said.

Other names include Peter Turkson, a cardinal from Ghana who would show the church is aiming to increase outreach to Africa, and Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan and a more traditional pick.

Though canon law doesn’t spell out the explicit qualifications that a pope needs, there are laws that do outline how the College of Cardinals could select someone who isn’t a bishop or a cardinal. In that case, the man selected pope would first have to be consecrated as a bishop before he was made pope.

According to Reid, the existence of these laws proves that if the Catholic leaders wanted to, they could select any Catholic male.

That, however, is extremely rare. The last time a noncardinal was elected pope was when Urban VI was elected to lead the church in 1379.

Rev. James Martin, a Jesuit priest and author, said while the standards are relatively low, the pope’s job requires someone with a combination of skills.

“The pope has to be first of all someone who can effectively preach the Gospel; second, someone able to do so in a stunning variety of cultures, and a person who can, at the same time, run an international operation that cares for one billion persons,” Martin said. “Essentially, the cardinals are looking for someone who can combine the spiritual with the practical: in a word, a combination of St. Peter and Steve Jobs.”

In 1996, Pope Benedict’s predecessor, Pope John Paul II, issued a decree with 92 guidelines for selecting a new pope. The rules outline everything from the size of the paper on which the cardinals can vote to where the election of the new pope should take place.

- CNN's Eric Marrapodi contributed to this report

- Dan Merica

Filed under: Catholic Church • Leaders • Pope Benedict XVI

soundoff (616 Responses)
  1. Ted Turner

    When Pope Benedict XVI was chosen, CNN concluded he was picked to be a short-term, interim leader, and the next one would be a long-term one. CNN.com seems to have forgotten their own reporting by not mentioning this and listing three possible successors who go against their own reporting.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:59 am |
    • Saraswati

      So if events prove one's first prediction wrong you are arguing that one should stick to the subsequent dependent predictions anyway?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • cedar rapids


      February 12, 2013 at 10:09 am |
  2. Tommycelt

    The Realist is imaginary (please ignore)

    February 12, 2013 at 8:53 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      More real than your god.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:09 am |

      ##### ***** The Judeo-Christian god emanates from the EVILbible.com (please visit this website) – It is time to put an end to the atrocities and lies and acknowledge that ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this website). – ***** #####

      February 12, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  3. Tom, Tom, the Other One

    A pope who's honest about his agnosticism would be refreshing.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:53 am |
  4. Roman_Catholic

    Last I knew there was freedom of religion in the United States, I am not running around judging agnostics and atheists – live and let live – I'd really appreciate it if people who have nothing to do with how I practice my religion would keep their nitwitted comments to themselves.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Science

      Keep it private then and stop trying to get it into to public schools in the US

      February 12, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Henry

      I completely agree with you. I myself am agnostic, however I can't stand when atheists make fun and call names and stereotype Christians, just as much as I can't stand when die-hard religious people push their agenda. There will never be an answer to who is right so long as we live, so what's the point in being evil to each other?

      February 12, 2013 at 8:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      Find a way to give your children a real choice in the matter of faith. They can be so much more than you are if given a chance to be free of the influence of the strange celibate men who say "Give me a child until he is seven years old, and he is mine for life."

      February 12, 2013 at 8:47 am |

      ########## – God needs to resign because ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this link). – ##########

      February 12, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      @Roman_Catholic- I agree.
      And there are many on both sides that have to praddle on about their beliefs...or non-beliefs.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:57 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Roman_Catholic, That would be a fair argument if nothing the Catholic Church did affected anyone else. As it stands however, the Catholic church, through both organized lobbying and influencing the voting patterns of its members, has significant power ina influence. The church lobbies against gay marriage (something which influences me personally) and against access to birth control and abortion. The church worked long and hard to limit condom distribution in Africa, with devastating personal, economic and environmental consequences. Unless your "personal" choices are genuinely not affecting others, they are open to scruitiny and criticism. Freedom of religion and speech means you can pray, worship and say whatever you want. It does not, and should not, guarantee you are above criticism.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Dippy's sub

      It's "prattle." Not "praddle."

      February 12, 2013 at 9:00 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Lol..thanks sub. Darn Mid-Atlantic/Appalachain accent. We tend to make our double tts sound like dds and end up writing it that way.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:03 am |
    • JoJo

      NO !!!

      February 12, 2013 at 9:04 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      It's OK. I like DDs.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:13 am |
    • Lisa

      That's the down side to freedom of speech. Any idiot is free to express an opinion, or to comment on yours. FWIW, you can believe whatever you want, so far as I'm concerned.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:17 am |
    • KMW

      To Saraswati,

      I only wish the media would give equal time to the Jewish, Muslim and Protestant religions when criticizing beliefs. Why is it open season for Catholics? As a practicing Roman Catholic, I am fed up and tired of my faith being condemned over and over again. (The New York Times is extremely guilty). The Church has been in existence for over 2,000 years and is not going away. I know many Catholics who feel the way I do.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:46 pm |
    • Guest

      My nephew was not raised to go to church, Tom. He chose to become Catholic. No one asked him to or trained him. At age 15 he sought them out. They made him ask repeatedly for 5 years before they believed he was sincere.

      February 13, 2013 at 2:32 am |
  5. Honey Badger Dont Care

    Colbert would be a much better candidate for pope. As far as I know he has never diddled a choir boy or been a memberof the nazi party.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:28 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      Then Benedict was your man than too. He was NOT a Nazi nor did anything with boys.
      So..you like him right?

      February 12, 2013 at 8:58 am |
    • Tommycelt

      Thought that up all by your lonesome, honey-booboo?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:41 am |
    • ellid

      Unfortunately the Pope did belong to the Hitler Youth and was drafted into the Wehrmacht. It was involuntary on his part, and he deserted from the Army, but claiming that he was not a Nazi is simply not accurate.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:44 am |
    • neoritter

      The Pope was never a part of the Nazi political party. Hence, he was not a Nazi. If you want to pin that to him, you better be willing to pin that distinction to EVERY German who was born and lived during WW2. And that's just being a bigot.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "Unfortunately the Pope did belong to the Hitler Youth and was drafted into the Wehrmacht. "

      Let me ask you this...was every soldier in WWII a Democrat? I mean...the Commander and Chief was a Democrat so that means ever soldier had to be right?

      That is the same logic you are applying to the Pope.
      No...he was not a Nazi.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
  6. Jesus was a space alien

    Most importantly the pope must be able to run the vatican gift shop. Those souvenirs like pope on a rope are important sources of income for the church. Must be willing to travel and wear robes and funny hats while kissing babies and bestowing blessings.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:21 am |
  7. SoldierOfConscience

    We need a strong traditional pope with a steady hand. Religion isnt a buffet line, pick what you choose. They should enforce all the rules, follow all the rituals.

    These "spiritual but not religious" people are mad. That is like "scientific but not mathematical".

    February 12, 2013 at 8:20 am |
    • Saraswati

      You assume that those "spiritual" people universally do not have a coherent logic to their individual beliefs and that the established religions do. There is no evidence to support either of these claims. In fact, and individual belief often is developed in order to correct for perceieved breaks in the logic of the established beliefs.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:34 am |
    • Cecil Burrow

      A steady hand is very important when diddling choir boys, I agree.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:39 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      As I recall, Jesus wasn't too fond of rigidly enforced dogma.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • JoJo

      The only religion God ever endorsed was Judaism.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:08 am |
  8. McBob79

    Amazed at the secular media's lack of respect for the pope and the Catholic Church in general. Very little news reporting but lots of opinion without fact and distortions. The sad part is that ,many of the sheep take it all in and pretend its fact. The lack of critical thinking skills in this country is staggering.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Saraswati

      Why should a religious leader receive any more respect than a politician? Both are about opinion and pushing an agenda. In this case we have a man who pushes an agenda that hurts both the gay community and women, and is responsible for much of the current global problem of overpopulation and resultant environmental damage. Religious leaders need to be held accountable like everyone else.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:42 am |

      ***************** It is disrespectful to us non-believers that you would worship the christian god from the EVILbible.com (visit link and LEARN) and try to cram it down our throats on a daily basis. Thank goodness, after reading that information on that website..... that your christian ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this link too). Soooooo .... that can only mean that the atrocities in the bible were committed by MAN pretending to do it in the name of a god ... to cover up their human crimes against humanity. *************** The same goes on today. SHAME SHAME SHAME !!!!!

      February 12, 2013 at 8:48 am |
    • Laura J

      @THE REALIST you just sound like a really nasty person. I don't believe in "God" either.. but I at least have the decency not to sink to name calling and pettiness when it comes to my opinion. Get a life.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:49 am |
    • Lisa

      Stop spamming with your website, Realist.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:19 am |
    • Gordon H

      Curious, just what has the Vatican accomplished in recent years that is worthy of respect? I'm sure they have done some good work but does it outweigh the bad? Critical thinking indeed.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm |
  9. Science

    God needs to resign too, along with the pope and the funny creation story from the bible.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • gdouglaso

      I get it...you want to be funny. Maybe it is time to take a break and show respect for the beliefs of others...even if you do not agree with them.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • Science

      Creation story does not work. That is not funny, even lost in court.


      February 12, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      You mean the idiotic, laughingly ridiculous, obviously delusional beliefs of others? HeII no!

      February 12, 2013 at 8:29 am |
    • christina knight

      @gdouglaso, Neither the Catholic Church or the Popes are above ridicule as long as they insist on meddling in the affairs of nations like our own. In fact, they should be ridiculed a great deal more.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:36 am |
    • Science

      Respect is always earned, never deserved.
      No religion has earned my respect.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:42 am |
    • Science


      Guess what it is the truth if you want to believe it or not ,science that is.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:47 am |
    • Saraswati


      "I get it...you want to be funny. Maybe it is time to take a break and show respect for the beliefs of others...even if you do not agree with them."

      By that logic I could gain "respect" for any belief I have as long as I deem it religious. Races unequal? – hey, its my "belief". No, people need to be accountable for their beliefs. We choose to hold our beliefs, whether religious, scientific or political, and those beliefs impact our choices and actions. We need to accept responsibility for all.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:47 am |

      ********** God needs to resign because ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this link). **********

      February 12, 2013 at 8:50 am |

      ########## - God needs to resign because ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this link). - ##########

      February 12, 2013 at 8:50 am |
    • "Science"

      Catholics don't believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible and are not creationists. Pope John Paul II declared in the 90s that Evolution does not contradict Catholic teaching. Perhaps you should know what you're talking about before you say something stupid and wrong about 1.2 billion people.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:52 am |
    • Science

      Get ride of Adam and Eve


      February 12, 2013 at 9:06 am |
    • Science


      Adam and Eve 10 seconds to blast off

      In physical cosmology, the Planck epoch (or Planck era) is the earliest period of time in the history of the universe, from zero to approximately 10−43 seconds


      February 12, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  10. Solomon Walker

    Appoint a female.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Thomas

      They tried that once with Pope Joan. Did not turn out so well.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:05 am |
    • ellid

      Pope Joan was apocryphal. Sorry.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:45 am |
  11. AvdBerg

    The church hierarchy refers to the Pope as 'Holy Father', while the Word of God teaches us to call no man your father upon the earth (Matthew 23:9). The Pope was never appointed by God but rather by men and a quick study of the Papal Office will confirm that it is not 'Holy' at all.

    For a better understanding of the history of the Papacy and the spirit the Pope serves we invite you to read the articles 'Papal Infallibility, Contradictions and Spiritual Blindness', 'The Mystery Babylon' and 'Popes and the Princes of This World', listed on our website http://www.aworlddeceived.ca

    All of the other pages and articles listed on our website explain how and by whom this whole world has been deceived as confirmed in Revelation 12:9.

    Seek, and ye shall find (Matthew 7:7)

    February 12, 2013 at 8:11 am |
    • Quoc

      So are you saying you shouldn't call your father your father? Or are you just misinterpreting the Bible? This passage would make sense to you if you actually read it. Otherwise, you wouldn't be able to call anyone your teacher as well.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:51 am |

      This poster is a TROLL on this site, they are proven liars and are only here to sell their book and website for their cult.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:51 am |
  12. Jim McDonald

    I wonder if CNN would ever run a similar story about obama? Or would that be too close to their ideas of God & religion?

    February 12, 2013 at 8:10 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Since the only two qualifications for presidential candidates is that they be born American and over the age of 35, it would be a pretty boring story.
      But then again, we did see the story of how folk claimed Obama wasn't born American repeated over and over and over again...

      February 12, 2013 at 8:15 am |
    • McBob79

      Right on... Many Americans worship at the alter of government and politicians who promise everything. It's a sad existence.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:17 am |
    • Science

      Need to run a story about Adam and Eve and tell what really happened maybe.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:35 am |
  13. MagicPanties

    We need a bear for pope, because he does it in the woods and so is eminently qualified.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:08 am |
  14. modern times/no more fairy tales people

    WHY is this front page news in 2013?

    February 12, 2013 at 7:54 am |
    • tv22

      Maybe something to do with the billion followers?

      February 12, 2013 at 8:04 am |
  15. fayray11

    John Boehner cries too much, not to mention the lies.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:42 am |
    • lordshipmayhem

      Those sounds like good qualifications to me!

      February 12, 2013 at 7:46 am |
    • Jake

      He lies just like Obama. Got Gitmo?

      February 13, 2013 at 5:29 am |
  16. Saraswati

    Technically Quebec is sometimes seen as part of Latin America...French is, after all, latin in origin.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:34 am |
    • Quebec Illegals

      C'est la vie, Julio.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:38 am |
  17. Charles R. Alexander

    NO! we don't need another "ugly " American in one of the more esteemed positions of the world we need to straighten out our own religious base before we start telling the rest of the world how to live

    February 12, 2013 at 7:33 am |
    • Saraswati

      They won't in a million years select someone from the US or any other unpopular or powerful state. That would be the fastest way to clear the ranks. Most powerful would be someone or middle eastern origin whose family had converted from Islam before moving to Brazil (a popular destination for many from the middle east). If they've got someone who fits that bill they have a winner.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:40 am |
    • Lisa

      Not only is he American, but he's also Irish-American. The Italians would implode! I think the French Canadian or the Ghanan has a better chance.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:21 am |
  18. Tasha

    Some believe the Pope is going to be the head of the one world government. It is still the Roman Empire that Daniel speaks about. We will see.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:29 am |
    • john

      And some people believe a tinfoil hat will save you from alien mind control...

      February 12, 2013 at 8:32 am |
    • Doc Vestibule

      Personally, I wear an aluminium jock strap to protect myself from the Obamacare Drones forcing birth control and abortions on the citizenry.
      They're going to put RU486 in the water supply to imbalance our precious bodily fluids, just like they did with flouridation.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:38 am |
    • Science

      Doc still laughing about metal jock , but it is not funny.

      Been drinking well water from Granpa's well that was dug back in late 1800's no flouride or other nasties.

      No meatl jock needed
      Cheers to good water needed for LIFE.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:40 am |
  19. Atheism is not healthy for children and other living things

    Prayer changes things

    February 12, 2013 at 7:28 am |
    • Jimmy Joe Jim Bob

      Prayer changes nothing.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:31 am |
    • Prayer is for fools

      Prayer is just like talking to yourself.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:35 am |
    • Sisyphus

      You must "pray" a lot then.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:37 am |
    • Prayer is for fools

      I pray Sisyphus doesn't get laid and reproduce. We've already hit our idiot quota on this planet.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Deeg

      You say this as if it were true. Typical Christian tripe. Tell lies, but pretend they are true. Never bother to pay attention to the facts or proper reasoning when a little mindless propaganda will do the trick.

      Actually a healthy agnosticism is very good for children. Don't teach dogmatic truth, teach them to interrogate everything, to keep their eyes and ears and mind open to new possibilities and new ways of understanding. Instill in them the wonder of life, and then let them explore.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:41 am |
    • Sisyphus

      "We've already hit our idiot quota on this planet."

      Thanks for filling that quota. 🙂

      February 12, 2013 at 7:43 am |
    • Martha C

      I'm with Jimmy Joe and Prayer is for fools on this one. Prayer changes nothing, and it's a shame people keeps foisting tt as a solution for everything. It's for the lazy sit-on-my-a**-and–do-nothing folk.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:45 am |
    • lordshipmayhem

      Considering the abuses we see children go through (being threatened with going to Hell, body mutilation, encouragement to believe in invisible friends and to not think analytically and rationally) religious indoctrination is child abuse.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:49 am |
    • ib42

      Prayer changes you from a sensible human being to a blathering idiot.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:51 am |
    • Mauraude

      It's one thing for children to be so gullible as to believe such tripe, but grown adults have no excuse.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:57 am |
    • MagicPanties

      My invisible pink unicorn is praying that you get a clue.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:07 am |
    • The Agnotician

      I am staunchly agnostic but I do believe prayer is a healthy thing. I take time every day to be thankful. Prayer reduces blood pressure, it helps to keep families together, comforts the hurt, etc. But no amount of praying is going to move a grain of sand or replace a finger that has been cut off or keeping priests from raping kids, as history has shown us.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:14 am |
    • Saraswati

      @Agnotician, Meditation does the same thing. So does exercise for that matter, and with even greater success in most studies.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:18 am |
    • GregtheThird

      I find some of these responses disturbingly hateful. Being anti-religious is a religion in and of itself. It is called materialism. Nothing exists beyond what can be seen in this world. That leaves only one God in their minds, themselves. Arrogance is always the defining characteristic of such believers in materialism. By speaking out against religion you are in fact expouding this belief system. If you don't believe in anything it would be best to leave well enough alone.Religion amongst many other things is about hope, and by villifying it you are attempting to take that away from people.There is nothing more sadistic than that.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:28 am |

      Praying only makes YOU feel better ... without you actually getting off your a.s.s. to do something REAL. Prayer doesn't work ... because ... ahem (clears throat) ... GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit)

      February 12, 2013 at 8:41 am |
    • Saraswati

      @GregtheThird, I am not religious and I am not a materialist. The world of possibilities is apparently bigger than you realize. You might want to go out and look around a while.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:43 am |
    • Jesus

      Prayer does not; you are such a LIAR. You have NO proof it changes anything! A great example of prayer proven not to work is the Christians in jail because prayer didn't work and their children died. For example: Susan Grady, who relied on prayer to heal her son. Nine-year-old Aaron Grady died and Susan Grady was arrested.

      An article in the Journal of Pediatrics examined the deaths of 172 children from families who relied upon faith healing from 1975 to 1995. They concluded that four out of five ill children, who died under the care of faith healers or being left to prayer only, would most likely have survived if they had received medical care.

      The statistical studies from the nineteenth century and the three CCU studies on prayer are quite consistent with the fact that humanity is wasting a huge amount of time on a procedure that simply doesn’t work. Nonetheless, faith in prayer is so pervasive and deeply rooted, you can be sure believers will continue to devise future studies in a desperate effort to confirm their beliefs!

      February 12, 2013 at 10:46 am |
    • Guest

      Since scientific studies say people who pray live longer, I think I will keep an open mind on this one.

      February 13, 2013 at 2:49 am |
  20. Why not....

    Oy vey. Why not have the RCC return to its roots and appoint a nice Jewish boy as Pope? JC the second or Reuben the first, the possibilities are endless.

    February 12, 2013 at 7:24 am |
    • Lisa

      Pope Feivel the First. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:25 am |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.