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
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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. No one cares

    No one cares who/what/when/why the next pope is. Most cat licks could care less.

    February 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Evolve

      I think you mean "couldn't care less."
      Think about it.

      But I agree.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:55 pm |
  2. Critical Thinker

    How about an African American Pope, or does it have to be another old white guy?

    February 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Crazy Train

      I don't know. What does the fairy tale say?

      February 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • pdqbach

      Perhaps you missed the inclusion of Peter Turkson as a serious contender.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:11 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      It won't be an African-American pope, it's more likely to be an African pope – it's where their growth is.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:11 pm |
  3. The Pope's Picture Of Muhammad


    February 12, 2013 at 1:45 pm |
    • Crazy Train


      February 12, 2013 at 1:50 pm |
  4. StupidColbert

    CNN and Colbert has a one way ticket...........

    February 12, 2013 at 1:30 pm |
  5. Bill

    How about talking about a Colbert with a legit chance to effect positive change? His sister, Elizabeth Colbert Busch, running in a special election in South Carolina. ColbertBuschForCongress.com and @ColbertBuschSC on Twitter.

    February 12, 2013 at 1:27 pm |
  6. CelticTee

    I don't believe Bono could be Pope. Bono's father was Catholic, his mother Protestant. He was baptized in the Episcopal Church of Ireland and was raised Anglican. The Catholic Church does not recognized baptism from Protestant churches (which is why a Protestant cannot receive Communion in a Catholic Church – Protestants do not profess to believe in "transubstantiation," or, the belief that the communion wafer and wine literally are transformed into the flesh and blood of Christ. Of course, if Bono fully converted and was baptized into the Catholic faith then that obstacle would be removed!

    February 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • Zandigra

      Not so. The RC Church does recognize the validity of baptism from other Christian denominations. Someone joining the Catholic Church who was baptized in the Methodist or Baptist church, for example, will not need to be baptized in the Catholic Church. The reason most non-Catholics are not permitted to receive communion is because they do not believe in the real pressence.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:31 pm |
    • Steve

      Actually, the Catholic Church recognizes baptisms performed under all Christian faiths. It does not recognize other sacraments: Eucharist, Confession, Marriage, Holy Orders (with some exceptions), Annointing of the Sick, and Confirmation. Bono may not be Catholic and Colbert may not be in good standing. So there you have it.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • Crazy Train

      Ozzie Osbourne should be Pope.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:49 pm |
    • Michael

      Actually the Anglican Church has a middle of the road theology regarding transubstantiation. Meaning that one can or cannot choose to believe it is the actual body and blood of Christ, hence, "the body of Christ, given for you, take and eat" or a symbolic representation. As an Anglican I do believe in the transubstantiation versus a symbolic representation; however, the person beside me may have a different view.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:51 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "Ozzie Osbourne should be Pope." He's not old and shaky enough yet. One more tour ought to do it.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:57 pm |
  7. Christ the Cartoon

    In related news, the Smurfs are seeking a new leader as Papa Smurf was gunned down in front of a liquor store last week.

    February 12, 2013 at 1:17 pm |
  8. New Athiest

    1) the s e x scandall showed us how holy and moral these people really are.
    2) there is a shortage of priests and nuns – especially in Europe & North America – that will be critical in another decade.
    3) women are not as willing to be submissive as they were in the past.

    We are all going to be saved from this cult before too much longer.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:51 pm |
    • Valentina

      And in other news, Chicken Little says that the sky is falling.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "We are all going to be saved from this cult before too much longer." Try crawling out the window when they aren't looking?

      February 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
  9. Ed

    The total disrespect for the Catholic religion and Christianity as a whole is what has our society in complete disarray. There is no respect for anything or anyone anymore. Complete chaos. I feel sorry for the young people who will have to live in a disgusting world.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • richunix

      Nope, not at all, we just grew up and realize what religion really is: Myth, gods and demons etc.that had evolved from fears of the unknown. Now maybe man move and grow to greater heights, not following someone dress in robes carry a staff of a convicted criminal.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:47 pm |
    • Pappy Smears

      Adults should not give respect to fairy tales.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:55 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      I respect logic and resaon as well as people who use those tools in EVER aspect of their lives.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:10 pm |
    • Honey Badger Dont Care

      EVER = EVERY

      February 12, 2013 at 1:12 pm |
    • religion; a way to control the weak minded

      sorry but respect is EARNED, not given. The church has done very little to earn any type of respect but has done much to tarnish their "moral" reputation.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:21 pm |
    • KMW


      I agree. The media is somewhat responsible for the anti-Catholic sentiment in our world today (The New York Times is very guilty). You rarely hear any negativity about the Jewish faith or Muslim religion. They love to bash the Church and without the Roman Catholic Church there would be very little help to the poor and disenfranchised. They do so much good but it is never or rarely reported. I also feel sorry for young people today.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:35 pm |
    • ..

      How many pedo Jews and Muslims clerics? Shuddthefuckup.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Gus

      Lot's of pedo Jews, Proddies, and Muzzies, youbetcha. You should look it up. There's pedos to go around, it seems.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:59 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      "no respect for anything or anyone anymore. Complete chaos. I feel sorry for the young people who will have to live in a disgusting world"
      That's right, no respect. Kids all wearing they pants down to the ground and voting for black people and listening to that Rat music, why they don't even like Billy Ray Cypress no more. What's the world coming to? I expected it to stay the same forever. You kids get off my lawn.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:00 pm |
    • sam

      Yep, Hugh said it best.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:23 pm |
    • KMW

      I would like to respond to the person (if I can call it a person) who commented about my statement on Feb. 12, 2013 at 1:48 PM. I think you are a very ignorant, disgusting human being (again, I do not even know if you are human) . You are what is wrong with our society today and your vulgarity and crudeness is what makes you one of the lowest common denominator human beings walking the face of the earth. You do not even have the courage to sign in with a name. I am amazed CNN would let you respond in such a vile and hateful manner. It should have been removed immediately!!!

      February 13, 2013 at 10:28 am |
  10. richunix

    I find it kind of funny, seeing the Pope walk around with a staff that has a man crucified on a cross. I wonder if Christians know that this was the Roman form a death penalty for person that had committed treason against the state, so it save to say maybe we need to modernize his staff and affix an electric chair to it. Considering Jesus was a state criminal, maybe we should go to any state prison and find a new messiah to follow.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:43 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      You wonder if Christians know that crucifixion was a punishment for crimes against Rome???? LOL here have some coffee.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:25 pm |
    • richunix

      Deacon, Prove it wrong ...here’s a cup of reality

      February 12, 2013 at 1:48 pm |
    • Chuckles

      I think what you should really focus on richunix is not what the punishment was for, but the fact that jesus wasn't the only one to go through it, not even close. Christians like to harp on the pain and miseries jesus went through to in order to hammer home why he was so great because he died for us but intentionally forget that many more good people went through much worse torture at the hands of the Romans, or barbarians or other people in the world before and even worse at the hands of the christians themselves. Lest we also forget, jesus being this god on earth can still feel pain? Doesn't that seem strange, a god with powers to walk on water, to create wine out of water, etc... allows himself to feel pain. We're also supposed to think what torture that jesus went through even though the time it took from jesus first getting arrested to death was less than a blip in terms of gods life, less than a blip for a god who's eternal and yet it was supposed to be so horrible that he forgave us for all our indiscrestions?

      The whole thing just isn't well thought out.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:54 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      No, really, you want us all to know that crucifixion was the Roman death penalty? Because you are not exactly telling us something new.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:29 pm |
  11. jj

    I'm for Father Guido Sarducci all the way!

    February 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  12. Tracy

    Colbert?.....lmao.....what a loon!

    February 12, 2013 at 12:40 pm |
  13. Pappy Smears

    If I were elected Pope, I'd relocate the Vatican to South Beach and replace that ridiculous Burger King-esque hat with a backwards NY Yankees ballcap. They need to loosen up and get with the 21st Century.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:30 pm |
    • Tracy

      If I were elected Pope....I'd take all the money and burn the Vatican to the ground!

      February 12, 2013 at 12:41 pm |
  14. Casandra

    Colbert is way to smart and way to liberal to be the Pope.

    February 12, 2013 at 12:18 pm |
    • *

      Exactly where is the way to smart? Where is the way to liberal?

      (perhaps you mean 'too'?)

      February 12, 2013 at 12:37 pm |
  15. Jim in PA

    So a woman can't be pope because they can't be ordained as priests? Well seeing as how Colbert is married, and therefore also cannot be ordained as a priest, wouldn't that same standard exclude him from being Pope?

    February 12, 2013 at 12:03 pm |
    • Steve

      "Some Catholics are angling for more Latin American representation in church leadership, and Ouellet taught school in Bogota, Colombia, early in his career."

      Obviously the standards are a little loose...this guy TAUGHT in Colombia EARLY in his career...that makes him qualified to represent Latin America more in his papacy. Not that he is Latino, or Latin, or any derivative thereof, but he has been to Colombia so he is good to go for all of the Latin America countries. Yeesh.

      Ahhh, the short-sighted and narrow-minded church, where people are merely lumps to be formed to the churches will.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm |
    • Chris

      The can't get married while in office, they can still get the office if they are already married.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:53 pm |
  16. ccw

    I just hope the new pope will finally open the Ancient Alien files in the Vatican library. It's time to let the truth be known!

    February 12, 2013 at 12:01 pm |
  17. palintwit

    Sarah Palin and the Tea Party... launching our country forward to the 12th century !!

    February 12, 2013 at 11:57 am |
    • Todd the Secessionist

      To take our rightful place alongside Yemen, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Love it.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:04 pm |
    • me

      Palintwit – pathologically obsessed with Sarah Palin and hates the Tea Party for wanting fiscally responsible government.

      Palintwit loves the fact that we have $86 trillion in unfunded liabilities and wants the government to destroy the country by continuing to borrow and spend us into oblivion.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:22 pm |
    • palintwit

      me... Yes, I dislike Palin and her gang of toothless, evangelical inbreds. The farther south of the Mason-Dixon line we can keep them confined the better.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:34 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      me, And the primary reasons were two unfunded wars and unfunded tax cuts which the GOP were happy with and now they don't like the consequences???

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

      The last thing the Tea Party wants is fiscally responsible government. It's not even a cohesive movement; none of them agree with each other except on two points:

      Guns, good.
      Darkies and gays, bad.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:31 pm |
    • me

      Except for the fact that the government puts the cost of the 2 unfunded wars at right about the amount of one Obama deficit.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm |
    • Hugh Jass

      Sarah who? Forget it, man, time to get a new act.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:32 pm |
  18. clarity

    Someone earlier had questioned the following Jefferson quote. It's a good one.

    from Monticello.org:

    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.

    is legitimate and comes from Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, Query XVII.

    (The page the responder must have been looking at does show another quote which is "spurious".)

    But that one is good and it goes well with the other legitimate quote I posted from the "father" of the U.S. Constitution, James Madison:

    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.

    February 12, 2013 at 11:43 am |
    • ..

      lol?? is suffering from the long-term effects of self-flagellation.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:50 am |
    • Awakened

      Newsflash: Catholics need to wake up and realize women have brains too!!! The Vatican is a gay party full of self-impressed cross-dressers. Get over yourselvels...put your money where your mouth is and relocate your headquarters to Calcutta or Rio, near the slums...you'll see how silly your pontificated outfits look there... and invite women to lead the church. Then you'll gain some credibility. And yes, Im a recovering catholic. Amen.

      February 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm |
    • me

      Jesus chose men to lead the Church, but of course Awakened knows better than Jesus.

      February 12, 2013 at 1:24 pm |
    • sam

      @me – yes, back in the time of inbred goat herders, all the best decisions were made. Idiot.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • me

      Ok, Sam, then lets purge the world of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Euclid, Archimedes, Socrates and the like from oh so long ago. Imbecile.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:38 pm |
  19. Pollywog

    The Catholics need to come out of the dark ages (and yes, I'm Catholic)

    February 12, 2013 at 11:39 am |
    • neoritter

      No I don't think you are. Because the Catholics have come out of the "Dark Ages" in fact we were the first to do it.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:52 am |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      The Catholics may have come out of the Dark Ages, and John XXIII and Paul VI dragged it kicking and screaming from the 16th Century to the 20th Century via Vatican II. Unfortunately, John-Paul II and Benedict XVI escorted it gently back from the 21st to the 16th century it knew and loved, undoing just about every reform brought about by their predecessors.
      If Benedict's replacement is not willing to look at the needs of the Universal Church in this new century, and properly evaluate the needs of the people without compromising the tenets of the faith, then we can continue to look at the Roman Catholic Church hemorrhaging members to other denominations.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:59 am |
    • me

      Translation: I call myself Catholic but political correctness is now my god.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:46 pm |
  20. Rusty

    He won't have a chance, true – but that doesn't mean Colbert will pass up the opportunity to spend the next few weeks talking about how awesome a Pope he'd make. If he doesn't already have a pointy gold hat (with the C intersected by the pastoral staff OMG), I'll be disappointed.

    February 12, 2013 at 11:36 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.