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. cedar rapids

    I think they should make a bear the next pope so we can combine sayings.....

    Is the bear catholic?
    Does the pope crap in the woods?

    February 12, 2013 at 10:11 am |
  2. Edward

    My money is on Cardinal Marc Ouellet. He was just too close to the position the last time.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • midwest rail

      Are you putting that money on the R'Ouellet wheel ?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:54 am |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      Honey, that stuff happened coz buncha g@ys infiltrated the priesthood and did their thing. The church shoulda called them out and kicked them off...

      February 12, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • midwest rail

      Wrong again, SOC. Nice try though.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • cedar rapids

      Honey, that stuff happened coz buncha g@ys infiltrated the priesthood and did their thing'

      you actually believe that nonsense dont you? That all the abusing priests, in all those countries, stretching back decades were infact gay infiltrators. too funny.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • ..

      Soldier, you love receiving pearl necklaces, don't you?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:18 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Soldier," you can't debate without defining your terms. Being a pedo is a whole separate problem from being gay or straight. A 'straight' pedo molests little girls, while a 'gay' one goes after boys. Nobody, gay or straight, likes a pedo. You probably already know this and just haven't thought it through.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:11 pm |
  3. MovinOnUpwiththeJeffersons

    Legitimacy of the Founding Father's quotes? What a joke....I believe each of these men were Deist anyway...Read the Jeffersonian Bible if you want legitimacy to what they actually thought about the Bible. Yes, our founding father wrote his own bible. In one way the Deist belief system makes more sense in it tries to rationalize religion without the need for miracles, etc. Of course, take away the miracles and your resurrection story doesnt make it to the front page....I for one love that Jesus was buried into a tomb and 3 days later emerges as a Chocolate Bearing Rabbit..I love Easter Candy.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • lol??

      Bein' a prez went to his hade. Now his inclination is horizontal.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • lol??

      The dippy geologists won't lie that way. They want cremation. From the urbam dictionary, hade: "Geology. the angle between a fault plane and the vertical, measured perpendicular to the strike of the fault; complement of the dip."

      February 12, 2013 at 10:02 am |
    • ..

      lol??, you love your hands-on husbandry training, don't you?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:13 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Easter is even named after the pagan festival of Œstrus that it replaced, which was the Spring celebration of 'going into heat.' Like rabbits, ya know?

      February 12, 2013 at 12:05 pm |
  4. ru serious

    typical...disrespectful. CNN would never in a million years write up something like this if it had to do with Islam . They are so wrapped up in hypocracy and PC tunnel vision it is almost funny.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am |

      ... it is not disrespectful because GodisImaginary.com (please visit the website)

      February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am |
    • hee hee

      You're right. CNN should be willing to post material making light of any religion, including Islam. Because no ideology should be immune from criticism or ridicule.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:49 am |

      ... and thank goodness he is imaginary ... because he emanates from the EVILbible.com (please visit this one too)

      February 12, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • lol??

      Mo' ham & ed for pope! A talking hoss will get everybody's attention.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • notonyourlife

      Yes, how disrespectful to those imaginary friend-peddling child rapists!!! Shame on you CNN.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • ..

      lol??, you enjoy your job of expressing the anal glands of dogs, don't you?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:59 am |
    • NotFoolinMe


      February 12, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • New Athiest

      Don't be silly.
      As soon as Islam replaces their Pope, CNN will cover it.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:14 am |
    • Phil (@illneverusethis)

      It's not anti-catholic – it's anti hokus pokus. There is no such thing as a magic man in the sky that will save you from burning in an imaginary hell if you accept him as your savior even though there is zero proof that he exists. We have science now. It shows us that the bible is nothing but a book of assorted ramblings from uneducated middle eastern farmers, thousands of years ago.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Really? Please get a blog with your real name on it and post a bunch of nasty stuff about Islam, including pictures that you claim to be the Prophet. See how long it takes for someone to shoot you. If you survive that, try the same thing with Sarah Palin.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:07 pm |
  5. ricardo1968

    Strategically, it is a mistake to pick a Pope from places where the church is gaining, they should rather pick one from places where they are losing. Better yet they need to pick one who is the most capable.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      Or just don't pick one at all and play a different child's game of make believe for a while.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:03 am |
  6. DrEvil

    Religious bigotry on full display at CNN.com. I wish I was as wise and all knowing as some of the posters on this sight. Your near omniscience is really impressive.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • hee hee

      group 1: my leader is literally infallible, our prophet walked on water, and if you don't believe me, you are going to suffer for eternity.
      group 2: oh really?

      who exactly is claiming to be omniscient here? I call double standard.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:01 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      Making fun of slack jawed id10ts who base their entire lives on the concept of there being some bearded man in the sky that no one can see who controls everything is not bigotry. It's mankind trying to cure itself of a crippling mental defect.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:09 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      " I wish I was as wise and all knowing as some of the posters on this sight." SITE, not sight, and I got this way by reading books. You should try one, and also hyphenate 'near-omniscience; next time. Throw us a freekin BONE here.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:20 am |
    • ..

      Dr. Dumbass, this is a SITE. You're welcome.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • Dippy's sub

      "I wish I were," not "I wish I was."

      February 12, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      "who exactly is claiming to be omniscient" Group 1, because all Group 2 needs is reasonable doubt, not proof positive.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:56 am |
    • lol??


      February 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  7. TheThinker

    Let us pray that the next Pope excels at preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, even using words if required. I really liked the direction the Church took since John XXIII, a direction towards love and acceptance.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:37 am |

      ***** - Prayer only makes the person praying feel better. They think they actually helped the person (or affected the thing) they are praying for ... but they are in actuality toooooo darn lazy to get up off of their a.s.s. and physically do something that would actually help. Want proof? Visit ..... GODisIMAGINARY.com ..... and it has a whole section on the fallacy of prayer. -– *****

      February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am |

      ##### ***** - Prayer only makes the person praying feel better. They think they actually helped the person (or affected the thing) they are praying for ... but they are in actuality toooooo darn lazy to get up off of their a.s.s. and physically do something that would actually help. Want proof? Visit ..... GODisIMAGINARY.com ..... and it has a whole section on the fallacy of prayer. -– ***** #####

      February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am |

      _____ THANK GOODness that GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit) ... because he emanated from the EVILbible.com (please visit) _____

      February 12, 2013 at 9:45 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      ... of young naked boys.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:10 am |
  8. Viva America

    I respect your right to choose imaginary friends.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:33 am |

      - We don't allow UNICORN WORSHIPERS to impose their beliefs on us because because UNICORNS ARE IMAGINARY ... and the same should hold true for JUDEO-CHRISTIAN god worshipers ... because their GODisIMAGINARY.com (please visit this website) -

      February 12, 2013 at 9:48 am |
    • hee hee

      Hey Realist, I agree with you but chill with the caps lock, ok? You're making us look bad.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:50 am |
    • Numb

      N'impote quoi! Imaginary stares at you in the mirror..Viva America all the same.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:56 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      Ignore THE REALIST. He may seem to agree with you (and indeed he may), but trust me, he's just a troll.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  9. Hugh Jass

    If Colbert becomes pope, I expect him to canonize Saint Donald Trump of the Orangutans. Look at the miracles Trump has performed, like being taken seriously for two days while he "ran for president," getting the president to toss a birth certificate at him as he strode by after killing bin Laden, and keeping that squirrel on his head quiet during press conferences.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:31 am |
    • Steven, Steven

      Trumps pompadour is nothing short of a miracle, defying gravity in all its holy, halo-like splendor.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:36 am |
    • lol??

      Quit pickin' on Trump. huge a*s*s*. He was smart enuff to get outa Dodge before yer wymen start shootin' up in da streets.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:11 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Quit pickin' on Trump" You're a bigot.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:57 am |
  10. Steven, Steven

    He's too smart to wear the Big Hat-cuts off circulation to the brain.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:30 am |
  11. Jeebusss

    Your religion is a joke. Who cares, it doesn't deserve respect.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • ann

      Actually it's not "a joke". It's lasted more than 2,000 years and has membership of approximately 25% of the world's population. Your terse statement could be "a joke" except it isn't funny, just ignorant.

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

      You're nothing but a self congratulatory, mental-masturbatory, bigoted asssole. But who is keeping score?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • gwf333

      Exactly!!! That's the American spirit I know and love. Let's disrespect and hate and make fun of people we don't like. Christians. Muslims. Jews. White People. Black People. Gay People. Short People. Fat People. Basically anybody that's not exactly who I am or what I believe or what I approve of. So ... we should compare notes to make sure you and I are exactly alike just to be sure we don't have to make fun of each other. 'Cause I tell ya friend, I hope that's not the case. I can already see that you and I are going to hit it off ... please, please, please be exactly like me so I can like and respect you.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:44 am |
    • hee hee

      ann: you're right, it's not a joke. Especially abusing children and covering it up.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • hee hee

      @Gorsh: is Jeebusss bigotted, for not taking your beliefs seriously?

      Your reaction to *his* beliefs is to call him a mas****tory a**hole. Double standard?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:48 am |

      ##### ***** - I AGREE!!!! - 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 9:52 am |
    • NotFoolinMe

      No double standard, just another brainwashed ignorant hypocrite. They're a dime a dozen. Like ann said, something like 25% of Earth's population has fallen for it so far. If it weren't so incredibly silly it would be a little scary.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:16 am |
  12. Shark

    You need to be a cardinal to be considered as a candidate to be pope, was any research done for this article?

    February 12, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • clarity

      But I wonder if a candidate has ever been put on a fast-trak – essentially being bumped up to Cardinal and the Pope in one quick step.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:24 am |
    • Daremonai

      I think that is the point of the piece, that being a Cardinal is tradition and political reality, but not actually required by the laws.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:42 am |
    • Andy

      the two step promotion worked really well for the Honorable John Roberts. It could work here, too.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:46 am |
    • annie

      The article is correct. You do not need to be a cardinal to become Pope. It is unusual if it is not a cardinal, but not required. Catholic Male in Communion with the Cuirch is what is required to become Pope.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:50 am |
  13. OverlordXenu

    Pope Colbert might actually get me back in a Catholic church, if only for the spectacle.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:20 am |
  14. Over 40,000 denominations of insanity

    Has anything improved with Christianity since 200+ years ago?

    Thomas Jefferson, POTUS #3:

    Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned; yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one half the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery and error all over the earth.

    John Adams, POTUS #2:

    I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved – the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced! With the rational respect that is due to it, knavish priests have added prostitutions of it, that fill or might fill the blackest and bloodiest pages of human history.

    James Madison, POTUS #4, chief architect of the U.S. Constitution & the Bill of Rights:

    During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.

    Thomas Paine:

    All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • agathokles

      I don't have the time to track down all of your alleged quotations from Founding Fathers, but the first one, supposedly from Jefferson, is included on monticello.org among the "spurious quotations" - i.e., there's not a shred of evidence he ever said or wrote anything like this. Given this, I'm skeptical of your other quotes, likely manufactured to make some obscure point about the legitimacy of Christianity.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:30 am |
    • Steven, Steven

      On the bright side, it allows 70 yr.old women to socialize, share pot luck and talk about their grandchildren.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:32 am |
  15. Republicans Are The American Taliban

    Colbert would make an excellent Pope!

    February 12, 2013 at 9:15 am |
    • biff mcguzzle

      What about Father Guido Sarducci? He's cool, he's hip, he likes women as far as we know.

      February 13, 2013 at 2:40 am |
  16. awating moderation

    From some of the post that have been on CNN, the fellow who has been declared a fugitive for making war on cops ,might be the next nominee for Pope.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:13 am |
  17. cindy

    Why do we need to respect other peoples opinion? I do not believe Jesus is anymore my Lord and Savior then Bob Dole is....sooo I do not really respect the opinion of others that Jesus is their Lord and Savoir. However, I respect their right to have that opinion even if I do no agree with it. I will not resort to name calling and belittling. I will debate, discuss and have a civil conversation on the subject though. Until we can agree to disagree.
    Lets stop throwing the whole "I respect your opinion or beliefs", and say what is really meant. I respect your right to your opinion and beliefs.
    I have no use for the Catholic Church, but I realize some people do. In my humble ill informed opinion, the church needs to find a balance of joining us in the year 2012 while maintaining tradition..etc.... perhaps someone a little younger and full of beans would do the trick? Good luck to The Pope, in this 24/7 high paced inter connected world, perhaps it is for the best if someone a little younger and able to keep up pace holds the wheel.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:12 am |
    • lol??

      Another whiny why. You will never get it XX.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:15 am |
  18. Brian

    You left out a very important qualification...the man must be unmarried.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:11 am |
    • Ed

      A married man can be elected Pope since the prescription against married clergy is a matter of discipline and not of theology. It has, in fact, happened many times. St. Peter was married as were a great many priests and even bishops in the first thousand years of the church.

      Additionally, the Pope can, at his sole discretion, suspend the discipline on a case by case basis. Pope Benedict XVI set up a whole personal ordinariate to ordain married anglican priests who wish to enter the church. I know of many married priests and I daresay that you would be hard pressed to find any arch-diocese in the United States that didn't have at least one married priest.

      What cannot happen however, is for an already ordained priest or bishop to marry. That's a much older tradition and it is accepted in both the eastern and western church.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:23 am |
    • lol??

      They wouldn't be so confused about marriage if they ever quit hangin' with da evilutionists.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:18 am |
  19. frank

    this is a typical CNN DISRESPECTFUL article

    February 12, 2013 at 9:10 am |
    • Marky Merlot

      Get over it, it's done in fun!

      February 12, 2013 at 9:18 am |
    • Jeebusss

      Nobody is required to respect your ridiculous religion.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:25 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Yes, but Colbert is a comedian and he can handle it.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:33 am |
    • ann

      I agree. The article is offensive and disrespectful – typical anti-Catholic stuff. The militant anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, anti-God commenters are also fairly pat. But why bother – is anyone's opinion on these matters actually changed by venting, vituperative little sound bites. Maybe all these anti-religion folk will feel a little better with some toxins released....

      February 12, 2013 at 9:51 am |
    • hee hee


      disagreeing with you is not disrespect. Your views are being subjected to analysis and criticism. Deal with it.

      No one is obligated to pretend to take your views seriously.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:58 am |
    • Jmttm

      Truly disrespectful and certainly not useful, much like a lot of media news stories. It only serves as a platform for those who wish to bash religion.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:26 am |
    • lol??

      Frank is a bigot.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:00 pm |
    • on the other hand, facts

      @ann: how can you be both militant and pat? just wondering.

      Disagreement is not militancy. How many atheists have knocked on your door? How many have told you that you would receive eternal punishment for not becoming atheist? We deserve a LOT of leeway on this front.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
  20. Saraswati

    CNN obviously decided to clear the decks with the backlog of pope posts before they expired. I only wish they'd tell us how many more they have left in the pile.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:07 am |
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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.