Other Interesting Facts

If a pope resigns and another is elected, are there in effect two popes at the same time? 

No, there are not. A person is not ordained pope as though this were a fourth category in the sacrament of orders: deacon, priest, bishop, pope. Rather, he is elected bishop of Rome. (If the person elected by the cardinals were not a bishop, he would be ordained one so that he could be the bishop of Rome.) A person is pope because he has a particular office—bishop of Rome. When he is no longer bishop of Rome, he no longer is pope. 

If a pope resigns from being pope, then what is he? 

We have to sort out what is attached to the person and what is attached to the office. We can parallel it to any bishop who resigns as head of a diocese. If a pope resigns as bishop of Rome, all the responsibilities and powers linked with that office are no longer his. He is therefore no longer: vicar of Peter, head of the college of bishops, patriarch of the West, primate (chief bishop) of the bishops of Italy, metropolitan of the dioceses surrounding Rome or head of Vatican City State. But he would remain a bishop and a cardinal. 

Would a retired pope still be infallible? 

Infallibility is a gift given to the church as a whole. It is exercised by the pope when he defines a doctrine to be believed by all the faithful, but it is not a gift given to the pope as a personal quality. The bishop of Rome, because of his office, can give expression to the faith of the church and exercise the infallibility with which the church is endowed. If he resigns from that office, he can no longer act in this way. 

If a pope retires, what would he be called? 

The title “Pope” (from the Greek pappas, “father”) was a term of affection used of bishops from early times. By the 12th century, it had come to be understood as particularly appropriate for the bishop of Rome, because his diocese was the center of ecclesial unity. (Hence also the title “Holy Father.”) 

There are no guidelines on what we would call a retired pope. It would seem appropriate to give him an honorary title. We attach “emeritus” to a title we give someone who has the honor but not the power of a previous position. He might appropriately be called Pope Emeritus.

Who can be elected? 

In theory, any man can be elected who is willing to be baptized and ordained a priest and bishop. He does not have to be at the conclave. The last non-cardinal elected was Urban VI (1378). The last cardinal to be elected pope who was a priest but not a bishop was Gregory XVI (1831). Callixtus III (1455) was the last person to be elected who was not a priest. Most likely a cardinal elector will be elected, all of whom today are bishops. 

What happens after the election? 

The cardinal dean asks the elected man, “Do you accept your canonical election as supreme pontiff?” Rarely does anyone say no. When offered the papacy at the conclave in Viterbo in 1271, St. Philip Benizi fled and hid until another candidate was chosen. Likewise St. Charles Borromeo, one of the few cardinals to be canonized, turned down the papacy. When Cardinal Giovanni Colombo, the 76-year-old archbishop of Milan, began receiving votes during the conclave in October 1978, he made it clear that he would refuse the papacy if elected. If the man says yes, then he becomes pope immediately if he is already a bishop. If he is not already a bishop, he is to be ordained one immediately and becomes pope. 

He is then asked by what name he wants to be called. The first pope to change his name was John II in 533. His given name, Mercury, was considered inappropriate since it was the name of a pagan god. The custom of changing one’s name became common around the year 1009. The last pope to keep his own name was Marcellus II, elected in 1555. 

The cardinals then approach the new pope and make an act of homage and obedience. A prayer of thanksgiving is then said, and the senior cardinal deacon informs the people in St. Peter’s Square that the election has taken place and announces the name of the new pope. The pope then may speak to the crowd and grant his first solemn blessing urbi et orbi, to the city and the world.