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. ja

    you gotta give the Pope thumbs up, for realizing, mcain could take a note from him

    February 12, 2013 at 5:18 pm |
  2. James Deane

    Wow... just when you think that there is at one subject that Apple fanboys cannot tie to Steve Jobs, you are proven wrong. The article actually manages to compare the responsibilities of the Pope–a position that leads 1.2 BILLION people–to Steve Jobs.

    February 12, 2013 at 5:05 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      Different kind of leadership. The Pope doesn't manage most catholics, only employs a few, and just collects money to pay for the RCC city, the Pope's summer residence, helicopter, etc. The RCC doesn't produce anything just preys on the gullible.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm |
  3. Find the pope in the pizza

    The public standards may be very wide, but the actualy standards are:

    1. Vatican insider power-player

    2. Hates gays

    3. Hates contraception

    4. Hates choice.

    5. Hates every other religious and non-religious viewpoint

    6. Rejects equality for women

    7. Loves to tell everybody what to do and what to think

    8. Pretends to be sensitive to the continuing abuse scandal while avoiding actually taking any responsibility for it, apologizing for it, or putting an end to it. Blames the victims, blames a conspiracy, continues all possible cover-ups.

    9. Hides his own role in the scandal

    10. Knows how to change the subject away from the scandal.

    11. Is white, European, and pampered at the expense of the poor people who are guilt-tripped into tossing cash into the plates.

    February 12, 2013 at 4:25 pm |
    • thomas

      You forgot selfless giving of their time, energy and funds.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm |
    • Find the pope in the pizza

      Popes are wonderful at forgetting to do those things all by themselves.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:34 pm |
    • ..

      Yeah, now THERE'S a trade-off.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:55 pm |
    • derp

      "You forgot selfless giving of their time, energy and funds"

      Yeah, they have been giving it to little boys for decades.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:15 pm |
  4. Ash

    Religion is nothing but a illusion to control the masses! and this Pope resignation smells FISHY!

    February 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
  5. Taras Bulba

    Joe Biden is qualified. Imagine: Pope Joe takes office, Hillary becomes Veep and secures the nomination for the next election. Then you could have Pope Joe and President Clinton Redux arguing endlessly over abortion. Fun, fun, fun!!!

    February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  6. The Edge

    Bono would make a fine Pope. He's pompous, arrogant and full of himself. Also, Adam and Larry can't stand him.

    February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  7. boocat

    If George Carlin were still alive, I'd nominate him.....he was Catholic "till I came to my senses."

    February 12, 2013 at 4:04 pm |
    • thomas

      Teh celebrity worship in this country is nauseating. Who cares what George Carlin thinks? Just because he is funny you think that is a reason to justify a position on religion? Why not do some thinking and soul-searching and quit quoting celebrities.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:30 pm |
    • ..

      Little tommy doing the two-step goose step.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:59 pm |
    • In Santa we trust

      While I agree with your basic premise, is it any different than worshipping an invisible yet to be proven being?

      February 12, 2013 at 5:16 pm |
    • All Hail The Almighty Whisker-Bisquit

      "Soul searching"? Is that what Catholics do everytime one of their wonderful clergy are caught buggering and molesting defenceless children?

      February 12, 2013 at 9:50 pm |
  8. kandric

    I demand a recount! My paper was 0.1 mm too narrow!

    February 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
  9. Reality

    Standards for the new pope? Not needed because the job is not needed in the 21st century. And why is that?

    Recognizing the flaws, follies and frauds in the foundations of Islam, Judaism and Christianity, the "bowers", kneelers" and "pew peasants" are converging these religions into some simple rules of life. No koran, bible, pope clerics, nuns, monks, imams, evangelicals, ayatollahs, rabbis, professors of religion or priests needed or desired.

    Ditto for houses of "worthless worship" aka mosques, churches, basilicas, cathedrals, temples and synagogues.

    February 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Judy

      You don't know anything.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm |
    • Harry Scarey

      You don't know anything either, so it's a moot point.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:15 pm |
    • tuckerfan

      that my friend was a prayer, one that is unlikely to be answered favorably but a prayer none the less.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:51 pm |
  10. palintwit

    Sarah Palin's supporters feel she is qualified to be the next pope. Which is why she is on the next flight to Rome, Georgia with her bible, her AR-15 and a large platter of s'mores.

    February 12, 2013 at 3:26 pm |
    • Muslims are the best choice to lead this world.

      Muslim people are the best qualified people to take care of all the sinners of the world. They respect women, children and will take care of all of us sinners.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:33 pm |
    • Reality

      o Islam gives women almost no rights and treats them like fodder for the male species as so bluntly noted by Aya-an Hi-rsi Ali in her autobiography, In-fidel.

      "Thus begins the extraordinary story of a woman born into a family of desert nomads, circu-mcised as a child, educated by radical imams in Kenya and Saudi Arabia, taught to believe that if she uncovered her hair, terrible tragedies would ensue. It's a story that, with a few different twists, really could have led to a wretched life and a lonely death, as her grandmother warned. But instead, Hi-rsi Ali escaped – and transformed herself into an internationally renowned spokeswoman for the rights of Muslim women."

      ref: Washington Post book review.

      some excerpts:

      "Some of the Saudi women in our neighborhood were regularly be-aten by their husbands. You could hear them at night. Their scre-ams resounded across the courtyards. "No! Please! By Allah!"

      "The Pakistanis were Muslims but they too had cas-tes. The Untou-chable girls, both Indian and Pakistani were darker skin. The others would not play with them because they were unt-ouchable. We thought that was funny because of course they were tou-chable: we to-uched them see? but also hor-rifying to think of yourself as un-touchable, des-picable to the human race."

      "Between October 2004 and May 2005, eleven Muslim girls were ki-lled by their families in just two regions (there are 20 regions in Holland). After that, people stopped telling me I was exa-ggerating."

      "The kind on thinking I saw in Saudi Arabia and among the Brotherhood of Kenya and Som-alia, is incompatible with human rights and liberal values. It preserves the feu-dal mind-set based on tr-ibal concepts of honor and shame. It rests on self-deception, hypro-cricy, and double standards. It relies on the technologial advances of the West while pretending to ignore their origin in Western thinking. This mind-set makes the transition to modernity very painful for all who practice Islam".

      February 12, 2013 at 3:38 pm |
    • Ash

      @ so called Reality! get your facts straight this woman Ayaan Hirsi Ali was deported from Holland because all her claims were phony, keep using her as an example, people with phony claims need phony examples!

      February 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
    • Reality

      "In 2005, Hirsi Ali was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.[5] She has also received several awards including a free speech award from the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten,[6] the Swedish Liberal Party's Democracy Prize,[7] and the Moral Courage Award for commitment to conflict resolution, ethics, and world citizenship.[8] In 2006 she published a memoir. The English translation in 2007 is t-itled Infidel.[9]

      As of 2012 Hirsi Ali is a fellow at the American Enterprise Inst-itute, a policy think tank, and lives in the United States.[10][11] She is married to British historian and public commentator Niall Ferguson.

      Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/ayaan-hirsi-ali#ixzz2KkfbkYHV

      February 12, 2013 at 11:59 pm |
  11. Dehins Todits

    I have always been partial to this idea of Colbert being the Pope, he charms a lot of Catholics and his profession is just very suitable for the position. I'm pretty sure God has a very good sense of humor.

    February 12, 2013 at 3:04 pm |
  12. Kevin Nivek

    This whole "Stephen Colbert for ______" schtick is getting old fast. I really wish news organizations could find more than the same 5 topics when they try (emphasis on the word try) to write a comedic article.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm |
    • End Religion

      The world seems to want a savior and Colbert is as good as any other.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:08 pm |
    • Colbert is an idiot and a coward....

      I bet he will dare to make fun of Muslins. Shame on you, idiot.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • End Religion

      Just accept that Colbert is the new Jesus. He's bringing you the good word each work day.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:43 pm |
    • ..

      St. Ann Coulter is a much better pick. She knows her Rush.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:07 pm |
  13. God

    No pedophiles please

    February 12, 2013 at 2:45 pm |
    • Richard Cranium

      Colbert is a practicing catholic and a sunday school teacher. Trolling works better when you start with reality.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:22 pm |
    • alexanderthoughts

      Did that person just write "Colbert is an stupid jewish and a mentally challenged man"???? Read your own sentence. Stephen Colbert is an entertainer, an intelligent and thoughtful person, a Catholic, a family man and he has raised a great deal of money for our soldiers and other worthy causes. If you can attack someone like that, then I hope that you are a better person. Tearing people down isn't being a good person, it is being an insecure person. Hey, if that is who you really want to be then I pity you.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:49 pm |
    • Ali Ibn Blah

      @Colbert is an stupid jewish and a mentally challenged man

      Hush up and cover up, you hideous, stupid woman.

      (just think, folks - she is probably raising 8 or 10 devoted little jihadists)

      February 12, 2013 at 3:53 pm |
  14. BS Detector

    Colbert is gay, so he can't be pope.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:32 pm |
    • BS Detector

      Haha, I just detected myself!

      February 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • MC

      You sound like you spend a lot of time "detecting yourself."

      February 12, 2013 at 3:09 pm |
    • Stephen

      Aren't half the priest too?

      February 12, 2013 at 3:36 pm |
    • Akira

      You must never get any sleep because your dreams make your radar go off.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
  15. victor

    Lifetime appointment to tell people what they are doing is morally wrong? Sign me up. I'm a baptized Catholic. It's about time we had an atheist pope anyways

    February 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • Bud in NC

      Sorry Victor. I am more qualified to be pope than you are. I too was baptized a catholic. BUT I am an agnostic. So I am a little bit closer to being a theist. I will meet you at the conclave.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:51 pm |
  16. reasonablebe

    i love it1 but i don't think he will qualify or is qualified– he'd have to be single and a priest.... of course the rules could be changed as single and celibate was a 'recent' addition..... recent in terms of church history, that is. ( introduced around 1100 a.d.) and had more to do with keeping church property and $$$ in the church than any religious doctrine--

    February 12, 2013 at 2:10 pm |
  17. empresstrudy

    The Huffington Pope would be female, gay, Islamic, half black half Asian, handicapped, a terrorist.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:05 pm |
    • Gus

      Sounds good. A thousand times better than some racist, psychotic old white geezer with blood and semen on his hands.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:08 pm |
    • Norm

      Your agenda is dead.
      You only sound like a fool now.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:18 pm |
    • End Religion

      What's that smell? The death of religion.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:44 pm |
    • Akira

      Dog gone.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:14 pm |
  18. empresstrudy

    Kind of like the weak soup for President. Age 35 and born here. And that's it.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm |
    • Akira

      Do you have distemper?

      February 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm |
  19. derp

    Qualifications for pope.

    1) Be male.

    2) Be a Catholic in good standing.

    3) 15-20 years experience in obstruction of justice with regards to child molestation cases.

    Please forward all resumes to hell.

    February 12, 2013 at 2:03 pm |
    • Devil

      It is very peaceful here now. No relegious leaders accepted

      February 12, 2013 at 2:49 pm |
    • Uncouth Swain

      "15-20 years experience in obstruction of justice with regards to child molestation cases."

      Got any real evidence of that?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:52 pm |
    • MC

      Uh yeah, dimwit, there's plenty.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:10 pm |
    • also, make women cover their heads and body

      Have all the qualities of a Muslim man, were women does not exist at all.

      February 12, 2013 at 3:14 pm |
    • Akira

      Uncouth, there's a word that describes you perfectly..."Enabler".

      February 12, 2013 at 4:22 pm |
    • All Hail The Almighty Whisker-Bisquit

      Nicely put, Akira.

      February 12, 2013 at 9:53 pm |
  20. NotFoolinMe

    Colbert for Pope? BAD idea. The Catholic Church has enough problems. The last thing they need is a pompous, arrogant, know-it-all, self-absorbed jerk for a leader. Now if his buddy Jon Stewart were Catholic, HE may be a consideration. People actually respect him. Unfortunately, for some reason Jewish people are not allowed to be Pope!

    February 12, 2013 at 1:58 pm |
    • richunix

      like you? Come to think about it wasn't Jesus Jewish?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm |
    • Norm

      You do know Colbert is just an act....right?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:20 pm |
    • sam

      Uh oh, someone didn't get the joke. Or the memo. You can find your own ass with both hands, though, right?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:26 pm |
    • TomGI

      Colbert is a jew, right?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:30 pm |
    • End Religion

      lol, not only didn't they get the joke of Colbert's act, they also don't know Colbert teaches the bible in real life. So funny!

      February 12, 2013 at 2:33 pm |
    • kottmyer

      You don't realize that Colbert is an act? And that the REAL Stephen Colbert teaches Sunday school?

      February 12, 2013 at 2:39 pm |
    • Check

      Jon Stewart is Jewish by ethnicity, but he is non-religious.

      Stephen Colbert is a practicing Catholic.

      February 12, 2013 at 2:42 pm |
    • Akira

      Unclear on the concept of political comedy, I see.

      February 12, 2013 at 4:27 pm |
    • biff mcguzzle

      What a bonehead! After reading your post I can now go to bed. No one can top that! Bwaaaa ha ha ha ! Thank you and good luck.

      February 13, 2013 at 3:18 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.