Here’s one of the most common questions you’ll find on the internet. But not because people don’t know if the Pope is not Catholic, but rather because it’s used as a rhetorical question. So what exactly does it mean?
Obviously, the Pope is Catholic. So the phrase “Is the Pope Catholic” is used to respond to questions where the answer is a blatant “Yes”. It’s like the idiom “Do fish swim?” So why is being a Catholic as a Pope obvious? Well, it’s one of the requirements to be a Pope – that aside from being a man.
Other than being an idiom, there have also been actual accusations from other priests about the Pope, wondering if he is a Catholic. So what is this about, and what other things about the Pope should you know? Continue reading to find out.
Is the Pope a Catholic: What Critics Are Saying
While the phrase “Is the Pope Catholic” is used as a sarcastic rhetorical question that can only be answered with a “Yes”, there was once a time when there was a movement against Pope Francis with priests and academics asking the same question but with all seriousness. And their conclusion? No, he is not.
Through an open letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church, 19 priests and academics accuse Pope Francis of heresy and request them to deal with a heretical pope. From the Code of Canon Law, 751: “Heresy is the obstinate denial or obstinate doubt after the reception of baptism of some truth which is to be believed by divine and Catholic faith.”
They accused Pope Francis of allowing divorced and remarried Catholics to receive Holy Communion. They also said that he rejected the Church’s teaching about homosexual acts, approved an agreement with China that gives their government a say in choosing bishops, and used some sort of a satanic ritual object during a ceremony, which was reported to be an artistic representation of Jesus Christ on the cross that was given to the pope at a youth event.
According to the Code of Canon Law, 1364: “An apostate from the faith, a heretic or a schismatic incurs a latae sententiae ex-communication…” That said, heresy is a grave offense that can make a person no longer in full communication with the Church. So if the Pope is found to be a heretic, then that makes him a non-Catholic. But since he was not – and going back to our main topic – yes, the Pope is still Catholic.
What is the Significance of the Pope for Catholics?
Since we’re already on the topic of the Pope, let’s also discuss his role and significance in the Catholic Church.
As the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, including the Bishop of Rome, the Pope holds the most authority over Catholics. As Catholics, we accept such authority because the Pope is believed to be a direct successor of St. Peter, the leader of Jesus’ apostles. As such, we see him as a direct line to Jesus, representing His love and concern for every one of us.
So what does the Pope do? Well, we turn to him for additional guidance. This includes preaching and teaching, and making decisions about faith and morality for about 1.3 billion Catholics around the world.
As the Pope, he is the supreme pastor whose responsibility involves knowing people, listening to their interests, sharing in their joys and sufferings, and understanding how they live. He also unifies the followers of Christ, connecting all the Churches around the world. He builds bridges as well with other Christian denominations and Sister Churches. Plus, he serves as a guide and an inspiration to the Bishops, encouraging them so they can efficiently work out Church policies and agreements.
What are the Requirements to be a Pope?
The reason why the phrase “Is the Pope Catholic?” is such a sarcastic rhetorical question is that to be a Pope, he has to be a baptized Catholic. So what other requirements are there to become Pope? Well, not much.
From the Code of Canon Law, 332: “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.”
Now, in 1024 of the Code of Canon Law, only baptized men can be ordained. So to be eligible to become a Pope, one only needs to be a baptized Catholic, a male, and willing to be ordained. He doesn’t even need to be a cardinal.
This leaves hundreds and millions of people eligible for the position. However, there’s little to no chance of cardinals voting for a non-cardinal because the last time that they did, the Great Schism happened. This is when the Church got divided into two, then later three Popes claiming authority.
How are Popes Chosen?
So how is a new Pope chosen? Well, it all comes down to the College of Cardinals, who are bishops from all over the world and officials of the Vatican personally chosen by the Pope. Their main responsibility is to elect a new Pope.
When the Pope dies or resigns, the cardinals will hold meetings at the Vatican called general congregations. Only 120 cardinals and those who are under 80 can vote in the “conclave”. Those who are eligible are then called the cardinal electors.
The cardinal electors will have to take an oath of absolute secrecy before sealing the doors to the Sistine Chapel. They vote through a secret ballot, which they drop in a large chalice. Every day, four rounds of balloting are taken until a candidate gets two-thirds of the vote. If this isn’t met, the ballots are then burned with a mixture of chemicals to create black smoke.
Once a candidate receives two-thirds of the vote, the dean of the College of Cardinals will then ask the particular candidate if he accepts his election. If he does, he shall choose a papal name, dress in papal vestments, and head out to the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica. The ballots will then be burned with chemicals to produce white smoke, signaling to the world that a new Pope has been elected.