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. Mario Di Cino

    The whole tone and slant of this article clearly demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of who the Pope really is. The Pope is not an elected official like the President of a country. Those who are not within the church should be more careful to comment about something they do not understand very well. For example, I as Catholic, would not be inclined nor fit to comment how the leader of another religious organization is selected....that is their process, their business. What is interesting is why the "world" seems to even care who is the Pope? Guess that provides testament to the efficacy of the Catholic Church on modern politics that this event is noticed 🙂

    February 12, 2013 at 11:13 pm |
    • ..

      Unclear on the concept of a humorous piece, are you?

      February 12, 2013 at 11:15 pm |
    • Okey Dokey

      Classic Catholic hubris: No one is allowed to have opinions about Catholicism.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:16 pm |
  2. Dan

    Colbert for Pope! He quotes scripture with ease and knows Latin!

    February 12, 2013 at 11:06 pm |
  3. Chris R.

    I believe the head of the Catholic Church would have to be a Catholic? As good a man Bono is, he is not Catholic, he is a member of the Church of Ireland/Church of England/Episcopalian. The whole band U2 started as a band in an Episcopal high school where they all met in Dublin.

    February 12, 2013 at 10:49 pm |
    • Okey Dokey

      If you go down to the bottom of this page, you will see we already addressed this.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:01 pm |
  4. SoldierOfConscience

    We need a pope who will show atheist their place

    February 12, 2013 at 10:05 pm |
    • End Religion

      Our place is right here, dragging religious cretins into the future.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:07 pm |
    • Larry Bob

      That would of course violate so many biblical rules, like "do unto others" and "judge not, lest thou be judged", and "vengeance is mine", but hey, we seculars are long used to Christian hypocrisy.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:25 pm |
    • kent

      of this i am certain. atheism will continue to grow through time. religion will continue its ebb and flow downward through time. perhaps hundreds of years, but religion is decreasing. there is no supernatural to stop that.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:27 pm |
    • ..

      Soldier, how has your conversion therapy been going?

      February 12, 2013 at 10:51 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Given that 700,000+ believers (probably 50% catholics) have abortions each year in the USA, and new charges continue to be filed for abusing children, Pope-A-Dope should put his own cult members in their place, or excommunicate them, before worrying about anyone else.

      February 13, 2013 at 3:27 am |
    • breathe deep

      I disagree with part of your reply kent:

      It used to be a god that was responsible for the sun rising every day, it used to be a god that brought the tides in and out, it used to be a god that struck lightning down upon the earth. The only question really left is what happens when you die? Once the connection can be made be made between getting knocked out and the same lack of oxygen and blood going to the brain that death does, then that question will be answered. I have no doubt that religion will take on a much more astronomical aspect after that. But there will be answers for everything.

      February 13, 2013 at 10:50 pm |
    • niknak

      Face it bro, you have bought into a great big lie.
      Your imaginary friend does not exist, no matter how much you want it to be true.
      Enjoy your long slide into oblivion......

      February 13, 2013 at 10:59 pm |
  5. Jeb

    Why not?

    Both the pope and Colbert are actors.

    Colbert is clearly the better actor.

    February 12, 2013 at 9:33 pm |
  6. Eric of Reseda

    Does CNN pay Colbert for dropping his name in the article and headline SIMPLY to attract readers? Notice it doesn't say Boehner is qualified in the headline.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:59 pm |
    • Shane

      Colbert us probably better liked

      February 12, 2013 at 9:09 pm |
    • Deez

      Does Fox intentionally make ignorant comments to attract viewers?

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

      Boehner isn't qualified to clean toilets.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:10 pm |
  7. MightyMoo

    Colbert for his Popee'ness!

    February 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
  8. Amanda Huginkiss

    Colbert likes little boys?

    February 12, 2013 at 8:53 pm |
    • ..

      Nah, but your husband does.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:12 pm |
  9. A preachers word

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfzFYEOVDgM&w=420&h=315%5D

    February 12, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
  10. Mark

    How about a show of hands of how many actually read the story. And if you did, why?

    February 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm |
    • End Religion

      I read it because Colbert is the 2nd coming of Our Lord Jeebus.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
    • Kram

      Honestly, I'm just here for the comedy of reading the astounding things religious people actually believe, so usually I go straight to the comments.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • beth

      I, too, read because I like Colbert.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:45 pm |
  11. 1gadawg

    what a POS article, totally classless...

    February 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm |
    • Lindalou

      Oh lighten up! If nothing else, it educated you on who qualifies to be a pope. It also gave you reasons why it wouldn't happen.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:46 pm |
  12. Bernie

    Any news on anything Catholic or Christian -nay, religious– in general inevitably brings out the hate filled, ignorant , anti-Catholic bigots most of whom are immature either in age or mentality. It never matters what the content of the article is they always respond in a generic shockingly offensive way. It's really what they are all about. For a grasp at credibility one of them will inevitably refer to the Inquisition or the abuse scandals. Real atheists, or those with contrary opinions about religion, have real ideas and can leave meaningful comments. Unfortunately they seldom comment thereby leaving the field to the adolescents who sully atheism's image. Of course, in an article like the one here, there is no real reason for an atheist or non-religionist to comment on religion or Catholics. The article is about a process of selection or election. The bigots, of course, never pay attention to details like that. They just let the hate-filled epitaphs fly.

    February 12, 2013 at 8:01 pm |
    • Wowie

      You write like you flunked school in the third grade and never went back.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:30 pm |
    • End Religion

      Fourth -nay, third– grade.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |
    • Bernie

      See what I mean folks? Wowie and End Religion are Exhibits A and B.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:50 pm |
    • Your hypocrisy is showing

      You were exhibit A, Bernie. You wrote a hate- and epithet-filled post raging against hate- and epithet-filled posts. I guess it only count if the poster is atheist, eh? Double standard for you.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:52 pm |
    • hawaiiguest


      I find it interesting that you'll talk about hate filled, or anti-anything when you say that only catholics should be commenting on stories about catholicism. Does that mean that you shouldn't have the ability to post on any story anywhere about paganism, or atheists? What about on stories about democrats/republicans (whichever one you're not)? Should you not be allowed to say anything about current or past wrongs by those you don't agree with? This is what you're advocating, and I'm pretty sure you will either not post back, or try to claim you didn't say anything like that.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:56 pm |
    • ..

      Bernie needs a hug.

      February 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm |

  13. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xbSZlqKxAE4

    February 12, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • mac101

      I'd vote for Stephen, but how is he going to keep that goofy hat on his head with his crooked ears?

      February 12, 2013 at 8:03 pm |
    • A

      [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KfzFYEOVDgM&w=420&h=315%5D

      February 12, 2013 at 8:54 pm |
  14. Ron 8200

    I am not Catholic, I find this storyoffensive we should teach respect for religious beliefs and customs. CNN what do you stand for?

    February 12, 2013 at 6:20 pm |
    • theala

      Are you kidding? What on earth is offensive about this story? Catholics are the largest denomination of Christians worldwide and comprise 1/6th the world's total population. The Pope has influence and reach. It's news, no matter what you think about religion in general or Catholicism in particular.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:43 pm |
    • Huh?

      Christians only make up 30% of the population and that number hasn't changed much throughout history. In that number there are Catholics.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:46 pm |
    • Answer

      But Islam is currently growing at a higher rate than Christianity.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • hawaiiguest

      Why should I respect a self-serving denomination that hides pedophiles, and attempts to legislate their backwards bullshit everywhere, especially here in America. Why should I even respect people who believe that anyone that doesn't believe as they do deserves to be tortured forever?

      February 12, 2013 at 6:49 pm |
    • Bernie

      It was just a humorous lead-in to the apparent looseness of the requirements to be elected. In other words it is in the realm of possible that EVEN someone like Colbert could be elected; possible but not probable.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:13 pm |
    • A former Brazilian Catholic

      How is any of this offensive?!

      February 12, 2013 at 8:28 pm |
    • Zingo

      Did you find the Brazillian painful to get?

      February 12, 2013 at 8:34 pm |
  15. Brian

    "CNN's daily, futile, attempt at trivializing or sensationalizing Catholisism." ...

    Catholicism does that to itself. Duh! By the way what is "Catholisism"?

    February 12, 2013 at 6:14 pm |
    • midwest rail

      Given the number who have left in disgust, I believe he meant "Catholi-schism".

      February 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
  16. j kent

    I think you're working off the old version of Canon Law. Under the 1983 Code, the Pope has to be a bishop, who has to have been a priest for five years, who has to have studied for five years and be celibate at the time of ordination. This is not in one provision, but in various provisions that link to each other. Colbert cannot become Pope for at least ten more years and his wife has to die pretty soon.

    February 12, 2013 at 5:53 pm |
    • lawrencewinkler

      Colbert may still be eligible. Though he has a wife, they have been married for over twenty years, and therefore he is celibate.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:38 pm |
    • Akira

      Lawrence: LOL. LOL. Lol.

      February 12, 2013 at 7:28 pm |
  17. Steve

    CNN's daily, futile, attempt at trivializing or sensationalizing Catholisism.

    February 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • Jim

      Catholicism trivializes and sensationalizes itself pretty well all on its own.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:04 pm |
    • Righteo

      Religion makes a fool of itself.

      News agency reports the foolishness.

      The fools who follow the foolishness of religion blame the messenger.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:06 pm |
    • Dippy

      cism, not sism

      February 12, 2013 at 6:16 pm |
    • Complete sentence

      "The word would be spelled Catholicism not Catholisism"


      "Cism, not scism"

      February 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm |
    • Wild Bill Webster, grammatician of the wild frontier

      @ Complete Sentence: You too did not use a complete sentence or correct grammar. Replace the "would be" with "is," and don't break your (very awkward) sentence into three lines like that.

      February 12, 2013 at 8:23 pm |
  18. Lisa

    Funny how they always claim there are one billion Catholics in the world. That number doesn't take into account the millions who have left the Church.

    February 12, 2013 at 5:36 pm |
  19. John

    Bono is not a Catholic. He is a member of the Anglican church.

    February 12, 2013 at 5:26 pm |
    • JDS

      Bono is most definitely Catholic, it is strange you would even think he's Anglican, considering he is Irish, and and Irish Anglican is next to impossible to find

      February 12, 2013 at 5:31 pm |
    • Suzanen

      ^Except in Southern Ireland...see, there's this history of division in Ireland that...oh never mind. Look up "Church of Ireland" to learn about it.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:42 pm |
    • Okey Dokey

      The reason he thought Bono was an Anglican is that is mother was an Anglican and Bono was raised attending both Catholic and Anglican services.

      They have this thing called Google, you know.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:44 pm |
    • Check

      Why do you folks argue and split hairs when it's so easy to look up:

      "He [Bono] was raised in Northside suburb of Finglas with his brother, Norman Robert Hewson (who is eight years older than Bono), by their mother Iris (née Rankin), a Church of Ireland Anglican, and their father, Brendan Robert "Bob" Hewson, a Roman Catholic. His parents initially agreed that the first child would be raised Anglican and the second Catholic. Although Bono was the second child, he also attended Church of Ireland services with his mother and brother." –http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bono

      He just seems to be sort of ec.umenical now...

      February 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      The (Anglican) Church of Ireland has about 390,000* members.

      The Republic of Ireland has a population of 4,588,252*.

      So ... 8% of the population, or around one in twelve people in the Republic are Anglicans. Not quite impossible to find perhaps, but nonetheless very much a minority.

      * Wikipedia

      February 12, 2013 at 5:50 pm |
    • Check

      Yeah, Okey Dokey, I didn't mean to step on your post - I was looking up and copying when yours appeared.

      February 12, 2013 at 5:51 pm |
    • ..

      Doesn't make Bono any less Catholic, Suzanen.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:13 pm |
    • Bono on religion

      "I have avoided religious people for most of my life"

      Bono has not identified which form of Christianity he now follows, but based on his positions on social issues, it almost certainly is no't Catholicism. He is probably follows his own version, which Pope Chad would claim makes him not a Christian.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
  20. donner

    What's a Catholic?

    February 12, 2013 at 5:19 pm |
    • Gordon H

      A footnote in history in another century, at least in its current form.

      February 12, 2013 at 6:42 pm |
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