A non-cardinal as pope?

A non-cardinal as pope?


                        Pope Urban VI  

My Italian colleague Gianfranco Brunelli, who directs the excellent Italian Catholic magazine Il Regno, suggested in an interview yesterday that cardinal electors should take advantage of a little-known clause in canon law and consider electing a non-cardinal in the coming conclave.

It’s a suggestion that has circulated quietly in Rome since Benedict XVI announced his retirement. Most observers discount the idea, but technically it’s a possibility.

Church law says a person elected to the papacy should either be a bishop or must be immediately ordained a bishop. Canon lawyers debate how wide a field that wording creates, but it’s clear that the next pope doesn’t have to be a cardinal.

Nor does he have to be under the age of 80 – which is a requirement to vote in the conclave.

Brunelli said the cardinals should, in fact, consider choosing a bishop as pope. He says it would be “an act of freedom, strength and courage” in the wake of the ex-pope’s courageous decision to resign. The cardinals would not be saying there aren’t enough good candidates in the room, but recognizing “the experiences of deep renewal and pastoral energy present in the local churches,” he said.

“It would be a statement that, even today, the Catholic Church has pastoral figures who are prophetic,” Brunelli said.

If would also widen the field of papabili tremendously. The church has more than 5,000 bishops; it has only 117 cardinals eligible to vote in the conclave.

That’s probably the biggest argument against choosing a non-cardinal. Just getting to know their fellow cardinals well enough to make a choice is considered a daunting task for those who will cast votes in the conclave. The idea of an outside candidate would require time to mature – and many of the cardinals seem in a hurry to wrap this up.

The last time a non-cardinal was elected pope was in 1378, when Italian Archbishop Bartolomeo Prignano became Pope Urban VI. In part because of the outside political pressures of that time, his 11-year reign was fairly disastrous, leading to the Great Western Schism.


4 comments (Add your own)

1. James Totter wrote:
The last time there was a remote chance of a non-cardinal being elected was 1958 (Montini). No non-cardinal stands out at this time.

Sun, March 3, 2013 @ 1:52 PM

2. aged parent wrote:
It's not really s technicality. It was always possible, and was on occasion applied. Pope St Peter Celestine, very much in the news these days, was not a Cardinal when he was elected Pope.

Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 9:08 AM

3. Kelso wrote:
Actually, I believe that any baptized male could be elected pope. To assume the office, however, he would have to be ordained priest then bishop, because the pope is the bishop of Rome.

Tue, March 5, 2013 @ 12:08 PM

4. ark and dove wrote:
The cardinals would do well to consider Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles. By choosing the bishop who chastised his predecessor Cardinal Mahoney for gross negligence in cases of priests who violated young people and children, the cardinals could not say more clearly, "We get it!"
Archbishop Gomez came from an admirable and stable family in which his vocation emerged early. His father, a physician of Monterey, Mexico, walked ten blocks to the parish church for morning Mass each day. His mother kept the parish bookstore. He was transfixed by his grandfather's nightly reading of prayers out of his prayerbook.
His other grandparents lived in San Antonio, Texas, where his mother had grown up. He early became familiar with American culture. As a priest, he has served in San Antonio, in Denver (where he was auxiliary bishop), and now in Los Angeles. He became a U.S. citizen in 1985.
Mexico would explode with joy at his election. To have a pope who know us well--our problems as well as our promise--would benefit us as well as the whole world, we being at this hour the world's lead culture.

Wed, March 6, 2013 @ 6:07 PM

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