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Can a Pope Be Fired?

Public domain photo of Pope Francis

26 Aug 2018

With the recent revelation that Pope Francis, while chastising those bishops who covered up sex abuse scandals of which they were aware, even to the point of calling them “shit” (he used the Spanish word caca), was himself well aware of the sexual misbehavior of Cardinal McCarrick (retired) of Washington, DC, and had allowed the Cardinal to continue since he became pope. In addition, Francis lifted Pope Benedict XVI’s order that McCarrick not be allowed to function as a priest and invited him to become one of his closest adviser. This has not sat well with many Catholics including priests and bishops who are now calling for Pope Francis to step down. Whether he will or not – the Vatican is currently side-stepping the issue – is unknown.

If the pope refuses to do so, is there any recourse. Can a pope be fired? The short answer is no.

The rules by which the Catholic Church is run is known as Canon Law. These are not neccesarily based on Scripture or Catholic teaching and they are changeable. The current version of Canon Law was adopted in 1983.When there is no pope, such as the period following the death of a pope, the church is put on what is for all practical purposes, auto-pilot. No changes can be made. The same occurs if a pope is no longer competent (the technical term is non sui compos). For example, if he is in a coma or suffers from dementia, he cannot be replaced. The church is placed on auto-pilot.

However, a bishop can be removed from office and, technically, the pope is the bishop of Rome. However, the only one who can remove a sitting bishop is, you guessed it, the pope.

Therefore, if Pope Francis refuses to step down, there is no canonical process available to remove him.


Canon Law Made Easy: Can a pope be removed from office? 31 Jan 2013.

Text © 2018 Gary J. Sibio. All rights reserved.


What do you think?


Written by Gary J Sibio

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  1. The pope may not fear the judgment of man. But “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”. If the pope is truly a believer then he knows that he must answer to a Higher Authority. If he does not repent and ask for forgiveness he can risk the wrath of God and he can definitely be “fired”.

    “ … offenses will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come!” If offenses came because of something he did or did not do, he surely must know what the word “woe” means.

    • I don’t know what religious tradition you come from but I can tell you that there are a lot of Catholics, especially in the USA, who would agree with you. Many are calling for his resignation. Because his actions in regard to covering up for sex abusers took place outside of the USA, there is no way he can be prosecuted but that is not the case with American bishops who did this. There are not only calls for Cardinal Wuerl to step down but for his prosecution. Personally, I would agree with them.

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