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. EldRick

    Who could possibly care which loonie leads this cult of pedophiles?

    February 12, 2013 at 11:20 am |
  2. avacon

    I didn't know Colbert was a pedo-phile.

    February 12, 2013 at 11:16 am |
  3. dave

    ColbertForPope dot com

    February 12, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  4. HotAirAce

    That marionette would work better with longer strings. Or is Pope-A-Dope keeping jesus on a short leash?

    February 12, 2013 at 11:10 am |
  5. Mike H.

    "Any baptized man in good standing could be elected pope".
    Ok, so I need to be baptized. But once done, I'll run for Pope and if you vote for me, I promise you all, my first act as a Pope would be to ex-communicate all priests involved in child abuse or the cover-up of it.

    February 12, 2013 at 11:06 am |
    • palintwit

      When you're done excommunicating priests you will have to deport the tea party patriots because they like to boink their cousins.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • New Athiest

      You would have my vote, but the RCC is more communist than democratic.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:14 am |
  6. richunix

    @Soldier of Conscience

    Let’s bring back the Spanish Inquisitions, oh joy now that will be real fun filled party. Your great tradition were designed by men, both good and bad, your belief centers around mythos. Here are 10 Commandant that make more sense

    Repost from Colin:

    1. DO NOT automatically believe something just because a parent, priest, rabbi or minister tells you that you must.
    2. DO NOT think that claims about magic, miracles and the supernatural are more likely true because they are written in old books. That makes them less likely true.
    3. DO analyze claims about religion with the same critical eye that you would claims about money, political positions or social issues.
    4. DO NOT accept it when religious leaders tell you it is wrong to question, doubt or think for yourself. It never is. Only those selling junk cars want to prohibit you from looking under the hood.
    5. DO decouple morality from a belief in the supernatural, in any of its formulations (Christianity, Judaism, Islam etc.). One can be moral without believing in gods, ghosts and ghouls and believing in any of them does not make one moral.
    6. DO a bit of independent research into whatever book you were brought up to believe in. Who are its authors and why should you believe them in what they say? How many translations has it gone through? Do we have originals, or only edited copies of copies of copies– the latter is certainly true for every single book in the Bible.
    7. DO realize that you are only a Christian (or Hindu or Jew) because of where you were born. Were you lucky enough to be born in the one part of the World that “got it right”?
    8. DO NOT be an apologist or accept the explanation “your mind is too small to understand the greatness of God,” “God is outside the Universe” or “God moves in mysterious ways” when you come upon logical inconsistencies in your belief. A retreat to mysticism is the first refuge of the cornered wrong.
    9. DO understand where your religion came from and how it evolved from earlier beliefs to the point you were taught it. Are you lucky enough to be living at that one point in history where we “got it right”?
    10. DO educate yourself on the natural Universe, human history and the history of life on Earth, so as to be able to properly evaluate claims that a benevolent, mind-reading god is behind the whole thing.
    I sometimes think that, if we first taught our children these simple guidelines, any supernatural belief would be quickly dismissed by them as quaint nostalgia from a bygone era. I hope we get there as a species.
    Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

    February 12, 2013 at 10:56 am |
    • bannister

      And if we are TRULY open minded, we will consider one final commandment- that even though all of RichUnix's above commandments are valid and true and followed...that God might still really exist after all!

      February 12, 2013 at 11:11 am |
  7. ViK100

    couldn't expect nothing less from Christianity-bashing CNN.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • ..

      Approximately 15 stories on the Pope. Yeah, CNN is a bashaholic.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:08 am |
  8. davecu

    Colbert is getting tedious .Aren't his 20 minutes up yet?

    February 12, 2013 at 10:50 am |
    • Bob

      Well he didnt inject himself into this story, did he????

      February 12, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • JeanneLH

      Boehner and Kantor are the tedious ones...give me Colbert any day.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:22 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Did you just now realize he's not actually a conservative?

      February 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
  9. palintwit

    Maybe now the pope will have time to instruct the Palin women on birth control thus preventing more idiot teabaggers from being born.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:44 am |
    • Dallas

      Just shut up! For crying out loud – you libs with the Colbert and Palin crap are making me sick.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:09 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      Dallas, you're on a story about Colbert. Y'know? Just sayin.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:48 pm |
  10. SoldierOfConscience

    by definition, atheist believes in nothing. I dont want to believe in nothing. only a fool believes in nothing. wise people believe in something.

    thats logic for you.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:41 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Says who? You? You're an idiot. Why would anyone care what you imagine atheists believe?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • Richard Cranium

      That is not logic. Atheists believe many things. We just don't make wild jumps irrationally and illogically as those who believe in religions.
      One must let go of logic and reason in order to have faith. Otherwise faith is not necessary.
      You have demonstrated your ability to jump to unjustifyable conlusions though, and that is also necessary for religious beliefs.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Other One

      An atheist does not believe in gods and goes through life accordingly, hence a-theist. I believe a lot of things, such as society will work best if people act in the interests of society rather than in the imagined interests of some imagined God.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • Geroy Simon

      Not really. That's your opinion and not fact. Religitards can't even prove we don't live in a simulation. And if you believe in a god, it sure is cruel and doesn't care. I mean come on, what kind of god puts us on a planet with super volcanoes, asteroids, disease, tsunamis, earthquakes, etc. You know what, if there is a god, it's satan.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:48 am |
    • richunix

      Mr. Roberts says it the best:

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

      February 12, 2013 at 10:49 am |
    • Richard

      You tossed out a straw man of atheism. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in God – not belief in nothing. Of course, you knew that, but that innocuous definition was not enough to fuel your hatred and bigotry of those who are over nine years old and do not have an imaginary friend.

      BTW, I'm laughing at you for being the clown that you are.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:54 am |
    • ..

      SOC, enjoying your new role as "sister wife"?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:58 am |
    • tallulah13

      What a fundamentally ignorant statement, SoC. As has been said (many times on this blog), atheism is the lack of belief in any god. That's all. There are plenty of other things to believe in.

      I get that you are trying to rationalize your personal belief in the supernatural. However, there is nothing wise about choosing to believe in an ancient myth for which there is no substantiating evidence. A logical person seeks rational answers, and an honest person seeks the truth. The foundation for religion is neither logic nor truth, but instead faith and superstition.

      That's logic, and truth, for you.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:59 am |
    • Jackson


      Mr. Roberts says it the best:

      Stephen F Roberts: “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”



      February 12, 2013 at 11:14 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      By definition, Christians worship mud. This is a fun game. Let's make up more stuff. By definition, SoldierOfConscience is a whiny little girl. It's EASY and FUN! By definition, the GOP is the Communist Party.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
  11. SoldierOfConscience

    we need a conservative pope who will being the real catholicism back

    February 12, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • SoldierOfConscience

      and fight all attempts to water down and redefine our great traditions

      February 12, 2013 at 10:40 am |
    • richunix


      February 12, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • ..

      Yes, the great tradition of child rape must NEVER be watered down, unless the priest is into wet games.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:03 am |
    • Dan I.

      Great traditions like denying heliocentrism?

      February 12, 2013 at 12:26 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "a conservative pope who will being the real catholicism back" How will he 'being' that? And is the Real Catholicism the kind that burns people at the stake and approves of Hitler? Because we'd just as soon you and Mel Gibson keep that.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
    • biff mcguzzle

      Gimme that old time religion, Gimme that old time religion, Gimme that old time religion , It's good enough for me !

      February 13, 2013 at 2:51 am |
  12. tarura

    Man, baptized and in good standing are the standards easy to skip. Like the 35 years of age and a natural born citizen for the US presidency, lately very easy to skip , I must say.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:38 am |
    • Teapatriot

      You hit the truth on its head, bro. Like when people pale over prez. Hussein's "my muslim faith" comment in an interview.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:43 am |
    • palintwit

      You are both pathetic idiots. Who are you going to look to for guidance in your miserable little teabilly lives now that Sarah Palin got broomed from Fake News?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:47 am |
    • ..

      You were diagnosed as being "slow", I must say.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:05 am |
    • cedar rapids

      well true, it looked easy to skip but they concluded McCain was natural born so he could run after all so all was good.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:23 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      John McCain, born in Panama, should never have been allowed to run for president any more than George Romney, who was born in Mexico. That is, of course, what you are referring to. Right?

      February 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
  13. Canada

    Are any other Christians anxious or concerned about this?... When I ask this, I asked those who know the prophecy of Revelations and Daniel. and the prophecy of the 8th false King, "He who once was, now is not, and soon shall be again." He who is of the 7, yet he is the 8th. "Those whose names are not written in the book of life will be astonished when they see him. "

    February 12, 2013 at 10:29 am |
    • midwest rail

      You're kidding, right ?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • cedar rapids

      really? prophecy? sigh.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • maple leaf covering crotch

      You are a Canadian jive turkey, rambling on in jibberjabber.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • Christianity is a form of SEVERE mental illness

      Prophecy comes down to perspective...not facts...not real. Get help Canada. lol

      February 12, 2013 at 10:36 am |
    • Canada

      You'll see that you recognize him.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:52 am |
    • Jackson

      Take off, hoser.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:16 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      "He who is of the 7, yet he is the 8th. " OH, I know that one. The answer is either "14" or "get help for your schizophrenia."

      February 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
  14. Michael

    Does it really matter who the next Pope is? Fundamentally, EVERY Pope must uphold the Church's secret doctrine of divisive, conflicted hatred:

    1. Gays are bad and should be punished
    2. Women must remain subserviant to males
    3. Any form of planned parenthood is the devils work – the Earth must remain overpopulated
    4. God loves everyone – but read the fine print.

    There – the "new" Pope's agenda. Sound familiar?

    There, enough said.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am |
    • joey


      February 12, 2013 at 10:39 am |
    • ViK100

      You're lost in this world my friend. Keep believing the lies of the devil if that suits your lifestyle and makes you happy.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:51 am |
    • biff mcguzzle

      Meet the new boss, Same as the old boss...

      February 13, 2013 at 2:55 am |
  15. Folderol

    Does Colbert like to wear dresses? That's the true measure of a pope. He already uses mascara and other makeup, so it might not be too big of a stretch.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • Robyn

      Yeah, the dress is a little frou-frou even for my taste,
      but Stephen could definitely rock the hat.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:32 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      " He already uses mascara and other makeup" You may not be aware that EVERYONE on tv is wearing makeup? Chuck Norris wears twice as much as everyone else.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:52 pm |
  16. scarf

    Years ago I used to play postal games of "Diplomacy," the board game of pre-WWI European Diplomacy. I hated playing Italy, but always appointed myself Pope (because I knew how loose canon law was about the requirements for the job), and excommunicated anyone who attacked me. One time I actually conquered Germany and condemned the Kaiser to a life in a monastery engaged in endless self-flagellation......

    February 12, 2013 at 10:27 am |
  17. BobZemko

    Colbert, Bono and Boehner cannot become pope because they have never protected pedophiles.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • rh

      But Paterno could have been?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • pazke

      Are you sure about Boehner?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  18. palintwit

    When the pope retires he will move to the U.S and co-manage the tea party with Sarah Palin. He will be right at home living in a trailer park, collecting assault weapons and drinking Everclear out of a mason jar. He will shop at Walmart, watch nascar and Sarah Palin will present him with an autographed copy of her 'crosshairs' poster. Life will be good for the pope in his golden years.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:23 am |
    • tarura

      Obama could qualify. He's in good standing. He just must resign the presidency.
      Oh, and get baptized, because muslims are disqualified.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:29 am |
  19. ellid

    Bono isn't Catholic. FAIL.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:22 am |
    • Robyn

      But he can very quickly take a correspondence course,
      then he can be certified "Pope Ready".

      February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • Jackson

      Is it sad that this moment is probably the biggest success you will ever achieve?

      February 12, 2013 at 11:19 am |
  20. New Athiest

    Unfortunately they are going to have to select a pedophile. Could you imagine if they found a bishop that was never in any way associated with touching alter boys? Or covering it up?? He could throw the rest of them in jail!

    February 12, 2013 at 10:19 am |
    • Ricke1949

      Atheist believe in survival of the fittest. Now what do you think the results will be in the Scouts?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:24 am |
    • Dippy's sub

      It's "atheists," and you are mistaken.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:25 am |
    • rh

      Considering you can't spell "atheist", I doubt you are one. And considering that Paterno is just as culpable for pedophilia as various bishops and cardinals (yes, including the Pope who is stepping down), why is his family protecting him?
      To paint all Catholic clergy as pedophiles means that all Penn State coaches are pedophiles too.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:27 am |
    • New Athiest

      @ricke1949 You are a simpleton.
      Survival of the fittest doesn't apply well to people, unless you very carefully define 'fittest'.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:30 am |
    • New Athiest

      there were over 16,000 children abused by the RCC in the USA. Probably many more that never came forward. This is proof of a systematic cover-up. Penn State had ONE assistant coach who buggered about 14 boys. Not the same thing.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:33 am |
    • joey

      only 0.03% of catholic priests are pedohpiles, pretty low actually

      February 12, 2013 at 10:45 am |
    • New Athiest

      Please let us know where you got that number-

      February 12, 2013 at 11:17 am |
    • Hugh Jass

      You know perfectly well that most Catholic priests are not into boys. Why do you bother getting yourself all excited fantasizing about it? Just go take a cold shower. Wipe off that sticky keyboard. Jesus.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
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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.