What is The Roman Catholic law for electing the Pope in regards to a married person? If a married person is elected, what will happen to his wife after becoming the Pope?


A married person cannot be elected, because the pope is Bishop of Rome and married people cannot be bishops.

Can 1042: The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:

  1. a man who has a wife, unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate;

Canon law does allow married men to become deacons (as stated there), and also priests with the individual approval of the Holy See, but it does not extend that relaxation of Canon 1042 to bishops.

These restrictions and relaxations are the same as in the Eastern Churches, so as not to rule out eventual reunification.

  • So, if a married man were picked would all the Cardinals who chose him be excommunicated? – Peter Turner Mar 14 '13 at 11:25
  • @PeterTurner I'd need to check that, but you can read Canon Law just as well as I can :-) – Andrew Leach Mar 14 '13 at 11:29
  • Since you seem well knowledged in this I would appreciate your analysis of my answer. I attempted to expand on this Canon Law you listed here. – 3961 Mar 14 '13 at 17:53
  • @AndrewLeach: It's true that Bishop of Rome cannot be married, but the pope doesn't have to be a Bishop of Rome, does he? If yes, could you provide some reference? – user3499 Apr 27 '14 at 13:15
  • 2
    @Dundee Actually the conclave elects the bishop of Rome, who is pope because Rome is the primary see. I'll attempt to find a reference, but as the custom is buried in antiquity, there may not be much online to link to. – Andrew Leach Apr 27 '14 at 13:20

Although it is true that any Catholic can become Pope they are typically chosen from higher level clergy such as a cardinal. These men are very likely not married because the Canon prohibits it unless the Pope allows it for his particular case.

The catechism says this concerning marriage for the clergy:

1579 All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate "for the sake of the kingdom of heaven." Called to consecrate themselves with undivided heart to the Lord and to "the affairs of the Lord," they give themselves entirely to God and to men. Celibacy is a sign of this new life to the service of which the Church's minister is consecrated; accepted with a joyous heart celibacy radiantly proclaims the Reign of God.
1580 In the Eastern Churches a different discipline has been in force for many centuries: while bishops are chosen solely from among celibates, married men can be ordained as deacons and priests. This practice has long been considered legitimate; these priests exercise a fruitful ministry within their communities.73 Moreover, priestly celibacy is held in great honor in the Eastern Churches and many priests have freely chosen it for the sake of the Kingdom of God. In the East as in the West a man who has already received the sacrament of Holy Orders can no longer marry. Link

The Canon Law, that Andrew Leach found first, says this concerning marriage and clergy receiving orders (becoming part of the clergy).

Can 1042: The following are simply impeded from receiving orders:
1. a man who has a wife, unless he is legitimately destined to the permanent diaconate [this means he will be a deacon which is the lowest level of clergy]; Link

The Canon Law also makes room to allow for dispensation of these laws in 1047 - 1049. It is, however, reserved to the Apostolic See only (the Pope). This is called motu proprio. This is basically the right of a monarch to change laws. The Pope has this right over Canon Law

So we might suppose that a married man might be selected as the next Pope, however, Can. 1042 would prohibit him from receiving orders, if he had not already as a deacon, but being a deacon would not allow him to take the seat of Rome because it is a bishop's seat, who are explicitly denied marriage. He would not be able to take the seat in Rome unless the previous Pope made dispensation for him. He could have already received dispensation and been serving as a bishop or priest for some time, although, I do not think there actually are any married bishops today. I am not sure but I would think that if a married priest, having received dispensation, were to be promoted I would think that he would need dispensation for his new post as well. The Canon Law on dispensation for marriage of the clergy is obviously for a case-by-case basis. A married priest's promotion would be a new case.

Because of motu proprio the Pope could also change the Cannon Law to allow marriage to just himself or all of clergy or anywhere in between. That is extremely unlikely to happen. Clerical celibacy is a long standing tradition. It would be taboo to suddenly allow marriage to all or any clergy.

The Sacrament of Marriage to the Catholic Church is sacred and will not and cannot be broken. If a man were elected Pope and was married as well they would surely accommodate both him and his wife, but there would still remain the problem with receiving orders unless dispensation was given previously. There are Canon lawyers that would surely have it well planed out if they ever did intend to elect a married man as the Pope.

  • Not any Catholic can become pope. Women can't. – freethinker36 Aug 9 '17 at 5:13
  • @freethinker That's a detail I've taken for granted, it seems. "These men are very likely not married ..." – 3961 Aug 9 '17 at 15:05
  • "These men are very likely not married". I took for granted that "these men"=cardinal. – freethinker36 Aug 10 '17 at 3:50

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