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?


3 Answers 3


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
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 at 11:25
  • @PeterTurner I'd need to check that, but you can read Canon Law just as well as I can :-) Commented Mar 14, 2013 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.
    – user3961
    Commented Mar 14, 2013 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
    Commented Apr 27, 2014 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. Commented Apr 27, 2014 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 Canon 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 who would surely have it well planned out if they ever did intend to elect a married man as the Pope.

  • 1
    Not any Catholic can become pope. Women can't. Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 5:13
  • 1
    @freethinker That's a detail I've taken for granted, it seems. "These men are very likely not married ..."
    – user3961
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 15:05
  • "These men are very likely not married". I took for granted that "these men"=cardinal. Commented Aug 10, 2017 at 3:50

Can a married person be elected as the Pope?

The short answer is yes, but in our present day situation it would be doubtful!

Canon Law can be changed!

Interestingly, most commentators consider being a baptized Catholic male with the use of reason as necessary for the validity of the election itself. So, one’s capacity and willingness to be ordained suffices for validity of election, but not one’s willingness to be baptized and ordained. I wonder what it is about being a member of the Mystical Body of Christ at the time of election that has most commentators talking about it impacting the validity of election? Elections through a papal conclave have special rules as to how and whom the cardinal electors may choose.

The cardinal electors are free to elect any baptized Catholic male that the Holy Spirit inspires them to do so. Pope St. John Paul II’s Universi Dominici Gregis on the rules governing papal elections makes no restrictions on who can be elected as pope of the Catholic Church.

  1. After his acceptance, the person elected, if he has already received episcopal ordination, is immediately Bishop of the Church of Rome, true Pope and Head of the College of Bishops. He thus acquires and can exercise full and supreme power over the universal Church.

If the person elected is not already a Bishop, he shall immediately be ordained Bishop.

  1. When the other formalities provided for in the Ordo Rituum Conclavis have been carried out, the Cardinal electors approach the newly-elected Pope in the prescribed manner, in order to make an act of homage and obedience. An act of thanksgiving to God is then made, after which the senior Cardinal Deacon announces to the waiting people that the election has taken place and proclaims the name of the new Pope, who immedi- ately thereafter imparts the Apostolic Blessing Urbi et Orbi from the balcony of the Vatican Basilica.

If the person elected is not already a Bishop, homage is paid to him and the announcement of his election is made only after he has been solemnly ordained Bishop.

  1. If the person elected resides outside Vatican City, the norms contained in the Ordo Rituum Conclavis are to be observed.

If the newly-elected Supreme Pontiff is not already a Bishop, his episcopal ordination, referred to in Nos. 88 and 89 of the present Constitution, shall be carried out according to the usage of the Church by the Dean of the College of Cardinals or, in his absence, by the Subdean or, should he too be prevented from doing so, by the senior Cardinal Bishop.

  1. The Conclave ends immediately after the new Supreme Pontiff assents to his election, unless he should determine otherwise. From that moment the new Pope can be approached by the Substitute of the Secretariat of State, the Secretary for Relations with States, the Prefect of the Papal Household and by anyone else needing to discuss with him matters of importance at the time.

Canon 332 § 1 of the 1983 Code simply states that one already a bishop (n.b.: not necessarily a cardinal) who accepts legitimate papal election becomes pope immediately. One who is not yet a bishop (and the Church has elected several non-bishops to the papacy) can accept election, but must be immediately consecrated bishop. By implication, that would seem to require that a papabile (a) be male, and be willing (b) to be baptized, if yet a catechumens, (c) ordained deacon, priest, and bishop, and (d) have the use of reason in order to accept election and, if necessary, holy orders.

St. Ambrose was elected Bishop of Milan when he was yet a simple catechumens.

The Roman Pontiff

Can. 331 The bishop of the Roman Church, in whom continues the office given by the Lord uniquely to Peter, the first of the Apostles, and to be transmitted to his successors, is the head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ, and the pastor of the universal Church on earth. By virtue of his office he possesses supreme, full, immediate, and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he is always able to exercise freely.

Can. 332 §1. The Roman Pontiff obtains full and supreme power in the Church by his acceptance of legitimate election together with episcopal consecration. Therefore, a person elected to the supreme pontificate who is marked with episcopal character obtains this power from the moment of acceptance. If the person elected lacks episcopal character, however, he is to be ordained a bishop immediately.

§2. If it happens that the Roman Pontiff resigns his office, it is required for validity that the resignation is made freely and properly manifested but not that it is accepted by anyone.

Can. 333 §1. By virtue of his office, the Roman Pontiff not only possesses power offer the universal Church but also obtains the primacy of ordinary power offer all particular churches and groups of them. Moreover, this primacy strengthens and protects the proper, ordinary, and immediate power which bishops possess in the particular churches entrusted to their care.

§2. In fulfilling the office of supreme pastor of the Church, the Roman Pontiff is always joined in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church. He nevertheless has the right, according to the needs of the Church, to determine the manner, whether personal or collegial, of exercising this office.

§3. No appeal or recourse is permitted against a sentence or decree of the Roman Pontiff.

Skirting close to some important ecclesiological questions about ecclesiastical power and holy orders, the standard authors elaborate on the above-cited qualifications. In presenting them, allow me to underscore that canon law is an international legal system, which any Supreme Pontiff is free to amend upon his elevation to the supreme office as pope.

Some past popes have either been married or widowed upon taking the Supreme Office of the papacy.

Popes who were legally married either as Pope or before they became clergy and were in fact widowed at the time of their election as Supreme Pontiff are as follows:

  • St. Peter (30/33-64/67) Mother-in-law is mentioned in the Gospel verses Matthew 8:14–15, Luke 4:38, Mark 1:29–31 and who was healed by Jesus at her home in Capernaum. 1 Cor. 9:5 asks whether others have the right to be accompanied by Christian wives as does "Cephas" (Peter). Clement of Alexandria wrote: "When the blessed Peter saw his own wife led out to die, he rejoiced because of her summons and her return home, and called to her very encouragingly and comfortingly, addressing her by name, and saying, 'Remember the Lord.' Such was the marriage of the blessed, and their perfect disposition toward those dearest to them.”

  • Pope Felix III (483–492) Married and widowed before he was elected as pope.

  • Pope Hormisdas (514–523) Married and widowed before he took Holy Orders.

  • Pope Adrian II (867–872) Married to Stephania before he took Holy Orders,[9] she was still living when he was elected Pope and resided with him in the Lateran Palace

  • Pope John XVII (1003) Married before his election as Pope.

  • Pope Clement IV (1265–1268) Married before taking holy orders.

  • Pope Honorius IV (1285–1287) Married before he took Holy Orders, widowed before entered the clergy.

Popes who were legally married

The last pope to be married and pope at the same time was Pope John XVII (1003). In 1075, Pope Gregory VII made celibacy mandatory in the Latin Rite.

From 1075 and on no individual could become pope while still married. If a pope remained true to his vow of celibacy that is another matter.

In 1075 Pope Gregory VII issued a decree effectively barring married priests from ministry, a discipline formalized by the First Lateran Council in 1123. Since then celibacy has been required of Roman Catholic priests, though the Catholic churches of the East have continued to allow priests to marry before their ordination. - Why are priests celibate?

Widowers have always been permitted to become priests and bishops.

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