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According to Catholicism, which popes have been elected to the papacy without being in priestly orders?

I was recently reading about Pope Leo X on Wikipedia. It claims that he was the last Pope “not to have in priestly orders at the time of his election to the papacy”.

Giovanni was elected pope on 9 March 1513, and this was proclaimed two days later. The absence of the French cardinals effectively reduced the election to a contest between Giovanni (who had the support of the younger and noble members of the college) and Raffaele Riario (who had the support of the older group). On 15 March 1513, he was ordained priest, and consecrated as bishop on 17 March. He was crowned Pope on 19 March 1513 at the age of 37. He was the last non-priest to be elected pope. - Pope Leo X

Do we know the other popes who were elected to the papacy without being in priestly orders?

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  • Is there a specific amount of time that one must be in the priestly order before one can be elected or elevated to Pope? Commented Apr 18, 2023 at 23:09
  • @MikeBorden From my understanding, the unofficial yet practically official requirement is to be a cardinal as they're the one's voting.
    – Luke Hill
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 0:07
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    @MikeBorden The apostles are generally considered the first bishops
    – eques
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 14:33
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    @MikeBorden "Is there a specific amount of time that one must be in the priestly order before one can be elected or elevated to Pope?" No. Anyone eligible to be ordained a bishop is eligible to be elected Pope. In that case, they would be immediately ordained after election.
    – eques
    Commented Apr 19, 2023 at 14:35
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    @MikeBorden Peter being appointed by God in the 1st century didn't have to meet the requirements of 20th century canon law. Note also that most likely a defect in those requirements would not render the papal election invalid.
    – eques
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 12:28

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According to Catholicism, which popes have been elected to the papacy without being in priestly orders?

Before going on with this answer, I would like to simply state what modern Canon Law states with the requirements are for the appointment of a bishop.

Can. 378 §1. In regard to the suitability of a candidate for the episcopacy, it is required that he is:

1/ outstanding in solid faith, good morals, piety, zeal for souls, wisdom, prudence, and human virtues, and endowed with other qualities which make him suitable to fulfill the office in question;

2/ of good reputation;

3/ at least thirty-Five years old;

4/ ordained to the presbyterate for at least Five years;

5/ in possession of a doctorate or at least a licentiate in sacred scripture, theology, or canon law from an institute of higher studies approved by the Apostolic See, or at least truly expert in the same disciplines.

§2. The definitive judgment concerning the suitability of the one to be promoted pertains to the Apostolic See.

Can. 379 Unless he is prevented by a legitimate impediment, whoever has been promoted to the episcopacy must receive episcopal consecration within three months from the receipt of the apostolic letter and before he takes possession of his office.

Can. 380 Before he takes canonical possession of his office, the one promoted is to make the profession of faith and take the oath of fidelity to the Apostolic See according to the formula approved by the Apostolic See.

I have thus stated what the Catholic Church’s requirements are for the nomination of bishops in modern times, but Canon Law has only been promulgated twice in the history of the Church (1917 and 1982) and these Canon Law took effect three (3) months after their promulgation.

Promulgation in the Catholic canon law is the publication of a law by which it is made known publicly, and is required by canon law for the law to obtain legal effect. Universal laws are promulgated when they are published in Acta Apostolicae Sedis, and unless specified to the contrary, obtain legal force three months after promulgation. Particular laws are promulgated in various ways but by default take effect one month after promulgation.

Once promulgation takes place, a canonical law acquires its last "essential condition" and takes immediate effect, subject to the vacatio legis imposed by universal law, or by the particular legislator issuing a law. - Promulgation (Catholic canon law)

Thus modern Canon Law can not be imposed or applied as the Church’s governing church rule for past centuries.

Canon Law existed prior to 1917, but not in the form of an actual codex of Church Laws.

Rules governing modern papal elections have special rules. Pope John Paul II’s Universi Dominici Gregis states the following:

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. 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.

There are examples of bishops being nominated in the Early Church who were not in priestly orders. Thus it would seem normal in a sense that the Pope as a bishop would occasionally be elected to this office without previously been ordained a priest.

I have personally been at ordinations with permission of the Vatican where individuals were ordained to sacred orders after a delay of just a single day intervals. The popes have granted such dispensations in the past. I am aware of at least one case of an individual being ordained a deacon and priest on the same day!

So who are some of the popes who did not have priestly ordination before being named or elected as pope!

St. Peter

The first pope of the Catholic Church, St. Peter himself was in fact named the supreme leader of the Church, by Jesus himself in Matthew 16: 17-19, prior to being ordained:

17 And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.

18 And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

19 And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose upon earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven.

Although, Catholicism recognizes Matthew 16: 17-19 as the point in time Peter was name to head the Early Church, his actual ordination did not take place until the the Last Supper. There is profound reasons why the Church calls this first Holy Thursday the Dies Traditionis the “Day of Traditions”!

St. Peter’s ordination took place at the Last Supper! Christ established the special priesthood for his disciples, which is distinct from the "priesthood of all believers." Christ washed the feet of his Disciples, who would become the first priests and bishops. The Church believes that this day the Apostles were made bishops and thus obtained the fullness of the priesthood.

Finally, St. Peter took place as head of the Church on the day of Pentecost and we see him giving his first instructions to the people of Israel in Acts 2:14-41.

Pope Gregory X

The election of Visconti, after a 2-year, 9-month struggle, came as a complete surprise to him, since it took place while he was engaged in the Ninth Crusade at Acre in Palestine with King Edward I of England. Not wanting to abandon his mission, his first action upon hearing of his election, was to send out appeals for aid to the Crusaders. At his final sermon at Acre just before setting sail for Italy, he famously remarked, quoting Psalm 137, "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning". Nonetheless, he had to return to Italy immediately, since he had been summoned by the Cardinals in order to accept the election at their hands. On 1 January 1272, the Pope-Elect reached Brindisi, and he arrived in Viterbo, the site of the Election, where the Cardinals were waiting, in early February 1272. On some unknown date he completed the Election by accepting the Papacy; it was in Viterbo that he assumed the papal mantle. But he was still careful to call himself Episcopus-electus. On 13 March 1272, he entered Rome with the entire Roman Curia. Since he was not in Holy Orders, he had to be ordained a priest, which took place on 19 March 1272. He was consecrated a bishop and crowned on 27 March 1272 at St. Peter's Basilica. - Pope Gregory X

Pope Leo X

Giovanni was elected pope on 9 March 1513, and this was proclaimed two days later. The absence of the French cardinals effectively reduced the election to a contest between Giovanni (who had the support of the younger and noble members of the college) and Raffaele Riario (who had the support of the older group). On 15 March 1513, he was ordained priest, and consecrated as bishop on 17 March. He was crowned Pope on 19 March 1513 at the age of 37. He was the last non-priest to be elected pope. - Pope Leo X

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  • More may be forthcoming
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 20, 2023 at 14:48
  • @davidlol No problem. Your comment was valuable for clarity sake.
    – Ken Graham
    Commented Apr 23, 2023 at 20:53

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