...but Mom, I don't *want* to be Pope!

...but Mom, I don't *want* to be Pope!

…but Mom, I don’t *want* to be Pope!

One of the things I’ve often wondered is what happens (gasp!) if the newly elected Pope doesn’t *want* to be Pope? I mean, what if he knew he were getting to old/sick, really believed that he wasn’t the right choice, etc.? Can he say no?

Interestingly, he can.

There were three previously elected Popes who all turned down the offer of the job – at least three, if you think about it. As the conclave is sworn to secrecy, it’s more than likely happened where someone has said no and they have had to make another choice – we just aren’t told. Back to the three that we “know” of – two of them were later made into Saints, so appariently there is some understanding if you say no, too!

1. St. Philip Benizi: during the long (three year!) papal election started in 1268, the cardinals were in heated disagreement over who should become the next Pope. Legend has it that – in 1271 – Philip Benizi came to the Cathedral to try to get things moving along, but fled and went into hiding when he heard his name was being considered as the next pope. Talk about not wanting the job! (source)

2. St. Charles Borromeo: not much info available on this one (no matter where I searched!), but in the 16th century, Charles Borromeo was said to have said “no” to the position. (source)

3. Cardinal Robert Bellarmine: again, not much info available other than that Cardinal Bellarmine declined his election in 1621. (source)

For me, this is such an interesting process. Unlike the election of a President of the United States, where a person willingly WANTS to become President and puts their name out there, this is so so different. You may not want to be elected Pope, but – through prayer – your peers may feel you are the best choice to lead the Church. What a strange, intense, powerful feeling that must be!

Copyright 2013 Jen Frost


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  1. One of the most consoling things for me to see was Pope Benedict’s acceptance of his election to the papacy even when he had made it totally clear ahead of time that all he wanted to do was retire and write his books. Imagine having the toughest job of your life at an age when most people have stopped working entirely! I figured if he could fulfill his duty and answer God’s call (even when he didn’t want to), then I could, too.

  2. Joyce Donahue on

    There is a delightful movie about this possibility – that a Pope would decide he was unable to fulfill the call to the Papacy. “We Have a Pope” is a charming film in Italian with English subtitles that treats the topic in a quirky but loving way. Very interesting look inside the process of a papal election and the dynamic inside the Sistine Chapel and the Vatican in general. You can watch it on NetFlix or Amazon on-demand. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1456472/

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