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Expert Answer Forum

by Catherine Frakas 11 Feb 2002

Popes QUESTION from Wayne October 11, 2000 Who can be elected Pope?
Why have most Pope's been Italian?
Who can elect a Pope?
How did the procedure of Cardinals voting start?
How is the Pope's name chosen?
Thank you if you can answer these questions, I have looked all over for the answers but I can not find them. Thank you for your help.
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on October 14, 2000 Dear Jess
Pope John Paul II issued new rules on papal elections in the Apostolic Constitution Universi Dominici Gregis. You might be interested in taking a look at it:
It says that whoever is elected pope must be consecrated a bishop if he isn't one already. So the answer is: anyone who can be consecrated a bishop can be pope. Therefore all celibate men in good standing with the Church are eligible to be elected. However, since the Church is the world's largest organization, good candidates will have to have significant experience in church affairs, a strong mind, and excellent administrative skills on top of being a holy man. Some people might think it's enough just to have a holy man in office. Pope Celestine V's case proves otherwise. He was a hermit who was acclaimed pope, but many people came to rue his election. Although no one calls into question his holiness, it is universally acknowledged that he was a poor administrator. He made a large number of imprudent appointments, squandered money, alienated a large number of people and never consulted his cardinals. But the people seemed to love him, and when they heard he was thinking of resigning, they paraded in streets, begging him not to go. I think his resignation was a wise move.
The only people who can elect a pope are cardinals under the age of 80. There can be no more than 120 cardinals. (In comparison, there were about 12 cardinals when pope Celestine V was elected, although he doubled that number). They meet in a conclave 15-20 days after the death of the pontiff and have no contact with the outside world. The vote is held in strictest secrecy and there are severe penalties for those who would tamper with the process. If you would like a summary of these new rules, you can read about them here:
It was in 1059 that Pope Nicholas II decreed that only cardinals could elect the pope. He wanted to eliminate the popular disorder and royal tampering that had gone on in previous elections. His decree was to dispel all confusion as to how the pope was to be elected (before it was the Roman clergy who elected the pope.)
The pope chooses his own name when he is elected, as Pope John Paul II's recent apostolic constitution indicates. Pope Lando (ruled 913-914) was the last pope to use his own name. Subsequently, all popes used a name of a predecessor. It's a good way of commemorating predecessors and presenting to the world the kind of pope one wants to be. Pope John Paul I, in a way, was a groundbreaker in using two names. He wanted to continue the reforms initiated by Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI.
As for why most popes have been Italian. The answer varies according to the age, and to answer this question fully, I would need to do very detailed research, which I can't. However, I can offer some informed guesses:
I think the most important reason why so many were Italian is that aristocratic Italian families often pushed their sons towards ecclesiastical careers and had a hand in papal elections. An Italian would be more likely to play into their interests. Being close to the seat of power, Italian prelates would have had a head start in climbing the ecclesiastical hierarchy, as they would be more in the know and in the loop. There's also the issue that the pope is the bishop of Rome, and that in order to be effective, people under his jurisdiction have to be able to relate to him. Remember that the pope not only governed the Church, but also ruled the papal states. Pope Adrian V, was the last non-Italian pope to be chosen before our present pontiff. He was Dutch and could not communicate very well. This was a serious handicap, especially since his reign (1522-1523) occurred during the infancy of the Protestant Reformation.
Thank you for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne Fortin
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