I didn't found sources of female popes (I don't count "Pope Joan", as it wasn't respected from the society). Does give the Bible or Theology give a reason/explanation for that?

I'm of course aware of the patriarchal society in that time, and that my question can be fully explained by that.

  • 2
    "I assume theologists consider both genders/sexes as equal for a pope." On what basis do you make that assumption? Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:15
  • @MattGutting This statement has no theological background, it was just the result of my thoughts about this topic. I couldn't believe theologists would doubt that in today's emancipated world.
    – uuu
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:20
  • 3
    @toogley Catholic theologians would indeed doubt that. Please have a read of some of the other answers on this site about why Catholics only permit males to be priests. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:17
  • @DJClayworth thanks, I'll do that. @ all why the downvotes?
    – uuu
    Commented Feb 3, 2016 at 6:29
  • This question is like asking why is your mother a woman.
    – Grasper
    Commented Feb 8, 2016 at 20:56

3 Answers 3


The short answer to 'Why are there only male popes?' is 'Because there are only male priests.' The Church spells out the why of that practice in a formal doctrinal statement within the Catechism of the Catholic church -- article 1577 presents the basic support for this position.

The Catechism uses varied references to support its teachings: Scripture for some (much) of its support, traditions and practices of the church for others, and in most cases a combination of both.

CCC 1577 Only a baptized man (vir) validly receives sacred ordination66. The Lord Jesus chose men (viri) to form the college of the twelve apostles, and the apostles did the same when they chose collaborators to succeed them in their ministry.."67 The college of bishops, with whom the priests are united in the priesthood, makes the college of the twelve an ever-present and ever-active reality until Christ's return. The Church recognizes herself to be bound by this choice made by the Lord himself. For this reason the ordination of women is not possible.."68

The references cited in the three footnotes are a mixture of scripture and writings / rulings / utterances of Church leaders. (Some of which falls into theology and some of which is dogma/doctrine/policy).

  • Footnote 66:

    • Code of Canon Law 1024 (A statement of "only baptized males can be ordained")
  • Footnote 67:

    • Mark 3:14-19; (The naming of the 12 disciples, all men)
    • Luke 6: 12-16; (same)
    • 1 Timothy 3:1-3; (Qualifications for a bishop, male explicit, to include the point that a man who can't manage his own household can't be expected to run a church)
    • 2 Timothy 1:6; (A reference to the "laying on of hands" for ordination)
    • Titus 1:5-9; (Similar to the 1 Timothy Reference, explicitly identifying a male bishop)
    • St Clement of Rome (Church Father) Letter to the Corinthians, article 42; (On the ordination of bishops and deacons) this is one of the Patrologia Graeca
  • Footnote 68:

  1. The Inter Insigniores language expressly states that Jesus broke with some of the patriarchic habits of his time, but still only ordained men even though among his disciples were women. (Item 2).

    The Attitude of Christ

    Jesus Christ did not call any women to become part of the Twelve. If he acted in this way, it was not in order to conform to the customs of his time, for his attitude towards women was quite different from that of his milieu, and he deliberately and courageously broke with it.

    For example, to the great astonishment of his own disciples Jesus converses publicly with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:27); he takes no notice of the state of legal impurity of the woman who had suffered from hemorrhages (Mt 9:20); he allows a sinful woman to approach him in the house of Simon the Pharisee (Lk 7:37); and by pardoning the woman taken in adultery, he means to show that one must not be more severe towards the fault of a woman than towards that of a man (Jn 8:11). He does not hesitate to depart from the Mosaic Law in order to affirm the equality of the rights and duties of men and women with regard to the marriage bond (Mk 10:2; Mt 19:3).

    In his itinerant ministry Jesus was accompanied not only by the Twelve but also by a group of women (Lk 8:2). Contrary to the Jewish mentality, which did not accord great value to the testimony of women, as Jewish law attests, it was nevertheless women who were the fist to have the privilege of seeing the risen Lord, and it was they who were charged by Jesus to take the first paschal message to the Apostles themselves (Mt 28:7 ; Lk 24:9 ; Jn 20:11), in order to prepare the latter to become the official witnesses to the Resurrection.

  2. John Paul's MULIERIS DIGNITATEM letter likewise reinforces Jesus' attitude towards women in his ministry:

    In all of Jesus' teaching, as well as in his behaviour, one can find nothing which reflects the discrimination against women prevalent in his day. On the contrary, his words and works always express the respect and honour due to women. The woman with a stoop is called a "daughter of Abraham" (Lk 13:16), while in the whole Bible the title "son of Abraham" is used only of men. Walking the Via Dolorosa to Golgotha, Jesus will say to the women: "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me" (Lk 23:28). This way of speaking to and about women, as well as his manner of treating them, clearly constitutes an "innovation" with respect to the prevailing custom at that time.

  3. Later in MD (article 26):

    This is clear and unambiguous when the sacramental ministry of the Eucharist, in which the priest acts "in persona Christi", is performed by a man. This explanation confirms the teaching of the Declaration Inter Insigniores, published at the behest of Paul VI in response to the question concerning the admission of women to the ministerial priesthood.

  4. Later, in article 27, John Paul II makes a point that may not sit well with people outside of the church (and certainly those not in communion with Her):

    This is of fundamental importance for understanding the Church in her own essence, so as to avoid applying to the Church - even in her dimension as an "institution" made up of human beings and forming part of history - criteria of understanding and judgment which do not pertain to her nature.


In theory at least, any unmarried, baptized Catholic man can be elected pope; I say "man" because canon law requires that anyone elected pope be immediately consecrated as a bishop:

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.

(Code of Canon Law, canon 332, section 1; emphasis added)

Of course, to be ordained (consecrated) a bishop, one needs first to be a priest:

In regard to the suitability of a candidate for the episcopacy, it is required that he is ... ordained to the presbyterate [i.e. the priesthood] for at least five years.

(Canon 378, section 1)

Which then leaves us with the question of why only men may be ordained to the priesthood. A discussion of this question is not found in the Summa Theologica proper, but it does appear in the Supplement to the Summa, which was compiled shortly after Aquinas' death by one of his students. After a brief discussion, Aquinas' student concludes that those who are called to become priests receive spiritual power over others, and it is not possible for women to receive this kind of power, "for a woman is in the state of subjection" (Supplement to the Summa Theologica, Question 39, Article 1).

Well, we know better today, one might say. So, Catholicism, what else you got?

Inter Insigniores, a statement on the subject issued in 1976 by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, comments:

The bishop or the priest in the exercise of his ministry, does not act in his own name, in persona propria: he represents Christ, who acts through him: "the priest truly acts in the place of Christ", as Saint Cyprian already wrote in the third century. ... The supreme expression of this representation is found in the altogether special form it assumes in the celebration of the Eucharist ...: the priest, who alone has the power to perform it, then acts not only through the effective power conferred on him by Christ, but in persona Christi, taking the role of Christ, to the point of being his very image, when he pronounces the words of consecration.

Because of this symbolic role,

the priest is a sign, the supernatural effectiveness of which comes from the ordination received, but a sign that must be perceptible and which the faithful must be able to recognise with ease. ... when Christ's role in the Eucharist is to be expressed sacramentally, there would not be this "natural resemblance" which must exist between Christ and his minister if the role of Christ were not taken by a man: in such a case it would be difficult to see in the minister the image of Christ. For Christ himself was and remains a man.


one must note the extent to which the Church is a society different from other societies, original in her nature and in her structures. The pastoral charge in the Church is normally linked to the sacrament of Order; it is not a simple government, comparable to the modes of authority found in the States. It is not granted by people's spontaneous choice: even when it involves designation through election, it is the laying on of hands and the prayer of the successors of the Apostles which guarantee God's choice; and it is the Holy Spirit, given by ordination, who grants participation in the ruling power of the Supreme Pastor, Christ (Acts 20:28). ... For this reason one cannot see how it is possible to propose the admission of women to the priesthood in virtue of the equality of rights of the human person, an equality which holds good also for Christians.

Thus John Paul II was only echoing the consistent teaching of the Church in his 1994 Apostolic Letter Ordinatio Sacerdotalis. He discussed, as well, the fact that Christ Himself appointed only men as his followers. He says:

In the Apostolic Letter Mulieris Dignitatem, I myself wrote in this regard: "In calling only men as his Apostles, Christ acted in a completely free and sovereign manner. In doing so, he exercised the same freedom with which, in all his behavior, he emphasized the dignity and the vocation of women, without conforming to the prevailing customs and to the traditions sanctioned by the legislation of the time."

That is, Christ was not bound by the customs of his time in his interactions with women in general, nor in the importance and dignity he afforded them; thus, the fact that he did indeed choose only men as His apostles and those closest to Him must mean something.

These men did not in fact receive only a function which could thereafter be exercised by any member of the Church; rather they were specifically and intimately associated in the mission of the Incarnate Word himself (cf. Mt 10:1, 7-8; 28:16-20; Mk 3:13-16; 16:14-15). The Apostles did the same when they chose fellow workers who would succeed them in their ministry. Also included in this choice were those who, throughout the time of the Church, would carry on the Apostles' mission of representing Christ the Lord and Redeemer.

Pope John Paul II concludes:

In order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter which pertains to the Church's divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Lk 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful.

The phrasing "this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church's faithful" is significant. It is precisely this phrasing that must be used in statements which are to be considered infallible.

Nevertheless, because it was not obviously a statement "regarding faith and morals", but apparently limited to an ecclesiastical practice, there was much discussion after the pope's statement about whether or not this statement should be considered infallible or not. (As could be expected, those who favored, or were at least open to, the ordination of women tended to believe that it was not infallible; those who were opposed tended to believe it was.)

Finally, in 1998, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith wrote a commentary on another letter of the Pope regarding what matters were and were not to be held definitively by all Catholics. This commentary had to do with the three-paragraph Profession of Faith to be made by certain Catholics occupying ecclesiastical offices. The Profession contains a paragraph stating:

With firm faith, I also believe everything contained in the word of God, whether written or handed down in Tradition, which the Church, either by a solemn judgment or by the ordinary and universal Magisterium, sets forth to be believed as divinely revealed.

The Congregation states that the teaching on limitation of ordination to men comes under this paragraph:

The Supreme Pontiff, while not wishing to proceed to a dogmatic definition, intended to reaffirm that this doctrine is to be held definitively, since, founded on the written word of God, constantly preserved and applied in the Tradition of the Church, it has been set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium. As the prior example illustrates, this does not foreclose the possibility that, in the future, the consciousness of the Church might progress to the point where this teaching could be defined as a doctrine to be believed as divinely revealed.

Thus, the brief answer to your question is:

Because Jesus was a man, and chose only men as his apostles, only men can be ordained; and because only men can be ordained, and popes must be ordained, only men can become popes.

  • Yessir, clear, and here's that up vote. Your Aquinas angle I didn't think to pursue. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 21:26

Formal Decleration of Pope John Paul II 1994

"Although the teaching that priestly ordination is to be reserved to men alone has been preserved by the constant and universal Tradition of the Church and firmly taught by the magisterium in its more recent documents, at the present time in some places it is nonetheless considered still open to debate, or the Church’s judgment that women are not to be admitted to ordination is considered to have a merely disciplinary force. Wherefore, in order that all doubt may be removed regarding a matter of great importance, a matter that pertains to the Church’s divine constitution itself, in virtue of my ministry of confirming the brethren (cf. Luke 22:32) I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).

  • Why did he say I declare that the Church has no authority whatsoever to confer priestly ordination on women and that this judgment is to be definitively held by all the Church’s faithful" (Ordinatio Sacerdotalis 4).Is there a reason or explanation given?
    – uuu
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:06
  • 1
    Marc - I suggest adding material from Ordinatio Sacerdotalis section 2 (esp. paragraphs 2 - 3), as well as from Inter Insigniores especially sections 5 and 6. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 17:14
  • @MattGutting. P will do so
    – Marc
    Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:16
  • @Marc is this ruling considered an "ex cathedra" utterance by the Pope? Does it or does it not have sufficient weight for that distinction? If yes, that might be worth mentioning, but if not no matter. Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:34
  • @KorvinStarmast According to an opinion of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (see note 33 of the opinion, a footnote to text occurring in paragraph 4 of section 11), this statement of the Pope is in fact "set forth infallibly by the ordinary and universal Magisterium". Commented Feb 2, 2016 at 18:45

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