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Adam Marcini wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am a practicing Catholic and I have a question in regards to the ascendancy of the Pope.
My friends and I are arguing about how a Pope actually becomes a Pope.

My contention is that he is elected by the cardinals.

Their contention is that he has a series of tasks he must complete.

Also, there is an argument about how a bishop becomes a bishop.

  • Were there any layman Bishops?

My friends contend that in the Middle Ages, the Bishop of Canterbury was always a lay person.
My friends also contend that a layman can become Pope.

  • Is this theoretically true?
  • Is there old Papal doctrine allowing for this?

Please respond quickly.

The loser has to treat the other to dinner. I do not want to pay.


  { How does a Pope become a Pope and can a layman become a bishop or the Pope? }

Eric replied:

Hey Adam, guess what, you win!

I have no clue where your friends get the idea that the Pope has to complete a series of tasks. Here is a good, if unofficial, article on the subject:

A bishop becomes a bishop in most places by direct appointment by the Pope (who is assisted in the selection by the Papal Nuncio, or ambassador, in that country). In other places, in the Eastern Catholic churches in:

  • Lebanon
  • Syria
  • Ukraine
  • India
  • and other places

bishops are elected by a synod of other bishops and approved by the Pope.

The idea of a "layman bishop" is contradictory; as soon as one is ordained a bishop, one ceases to be a layman. (A cleric is a deacon, priest, or bishop; anyone not a cleric or a religious [consecrated virgin/celibate] is a lay person.) However, while exceedingly rare and probably never done in modern times, it is possible for a layman to be selected as a bishop, in which case he is quickly ordained deacon and priest before being ordained a bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury has never been a lay person. It is possible they are confusing
St. Thomas More (a layman, chancellor of England, martyred by the king) with St. Thomas a Becket (archbishop of Canterbury, martyred on behalf of the king).

Your friends are right, however, in that theoretically, any Catholic lay man can be elected Pope (although he has to be ordained a deacon, priest, and bishop before assuming the office), but again, this has probably never happened beyond the first millennium.

We take a cut of bet proceeds, by the way. ;-)

Eric Ewanco

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