Papabile (Italian pronunciation: [paˈpaːbile], pl. papabili) is an unofficial Italian term first coined by Vaticanologists and now used internationally in many languages to describe a Roman Catholic man, in practice always a cardinal, who is thought a likely or possible candidate to be elected pope. A literal English translation would be "pop(e)able" or "able to be pope".[1] In Italy the term has become very common and people use it for other situations too.

In some cases the cardinals will choose a papabile candidate. Among the papabili cardinals who have been elected pope are Eugenio Pacelli (Pius XII), Giovanni Battista Montini (Paul VI), and Joseph Ratzinger (Benedict XVI). However, at times the College of Cardinals elect a man who was not considered papabile by most Vatican watchers. In recent years those who were elected pope though not considered papabile include John XXIII, John Paul I, and John Paul II. There is a saying among Vaticanologists: "He who enters the conclave as pope, leaves it as a cardinal." This is a popular proverb in Italy as well, especially used among the elderly.

The list of papabili changes as cardinals age. For instance, Carlo Maria Martini was thought to be papabile until he retired from his see upon reaching 75 years of age.

In Italian, the word papabile is also used in non-Church contexts referring to short list candidates, i.e. those who, among the available candidates, are most likely to get elected or appointed to a specific position.[2]

Papabili elected pope

Papabili not elected

Being seen as papabile, however, is no guarantee of election, and is sometimes seen as a handicap. (It should be noted that while the following candidates were widely discussed as candidates publicly, the actual vote results described below are frequently based on rumours and sourced, if at all, from off-the-record reports of individual cardinals.)

Papabili at the 2013 conclave

The following cardinals, as noted in the cited references, were also considered papabili at the 2013 conclave which elected Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio who took the name Francis.

Non-papabili elected pope

Pope John Paul I predicted Cardinal Wojtyła the future John Paul II would succeed him, and Cardinal Jean-Marie Villot predicted in May 1978 that only Wojtyła could gain the support of two-thirds of the cardinal electors, but was not widely considered papabile because he was not Italian and came from the Eastern bloc.

See also


  1. Castiglioni was papabile at both the 1823 conclave and at the 1829 conclave.[3][4] Pope Pius VII during his lifetime called Cardinal Castiglioni "Pope Pius VIII"[3][4] and at the 1823 conclave, the person ultimately elected as Pope Leo XII stated that Cardinal Castiglioni would someday be Pope Pius VIII. Castiglioni came close to being elected at the 1823 conclave but lost support due to being identified as being close to Cardinal Ercole Consalvi, a moderate and Secretary of State of the late Pope Pius VII.[3][4] Consalvi later died during Leo XII's pontificate and Castiglioni, a papabile once more when Leo XII himself died, was subsequently elected Pope at the 1829 conclave.[4] His election was facilitated in that of the other papabili, Bartolomeo Pacca was opposed by France while the other papabile Emmanuele de Gregorio failed to get the support of the majority of the other cardinals. Upon his election, Castiglioni took the name Pius VIII, given that his two immediate predecessors had previously called him by that name
  2. The majority of the cardinals who headed to Rome for the 1878 conclave had already decided to support Pecci who was Camerlengo. Also Pecci was perceived to be the opposite of the recently deceased Pius IX.[5]
  3. Pope Pius XI prior to his death strongly hinted that he favored Cardinal Pacelli as his successor.[8] On 15 December 1937, during his last consistory, Pius XI strongly hinted to the cardinals that he expected Pacelli to be his successor, saying "He is in your midst."[9][10] He had previously been quoted as saying: "When today the Pope dies, you'll get another one tomorrow, because the Church continues. It would be a much bigger tragedy, if Cardinal Pacelli dies, because there is only one. I pray every day, God may send another one into one of our seminaries, but as of today, there is only one in this world."[11]
  4. On 2 January 2005, Time magazine quoted unnamed Vatican sources as saying that Ratzinger was a front runner to succeed John Paul II should he die or become too ill to continue as pope. On the death of John Paul II, the Financial Times gave the odds of Ratzinger becoming pope as 7–1, the lead position, but close to his rivals on the liberal wing of the church. In April 2005, before his election as pope, he was identified as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time.[18] At the conclave, "it was, if not Ratzinger, who? And as they came to know him, the question became, why not Ratzinger?"[19] On 19 April 2005, he was elected on the second day after four ballots.[19]
  5. Jorge Mario Bergoglio was a papabile at the 2005 conclave[24][26] and was also considered a contender at the 2013 conclave[20][21][24][27] due to his being the reported "second-place finisher" at the 2005 conclave[20][24] and according to John L. Allen, Jr., some of the participants in the 2005 conclave who were also participating in the 2013 conclave were "getting another bite at the apple".[24] Despite this, his election still came as a surprise because some of the commentators who considered him papabile made the observation that there were "compelling reasons to believe that Bergoglio's window of opportunity to be pope has already closed"[24] and that "his 'moment' seems to be over".[20]
  6. Papal historian Valérie Pirie disagreed with the conclusion that Rampolla would have won but for the veto of the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. Pirie claims that Rampolla would never have prevailed in the conclave and all that the veto accomplished was to make him appear a sympathetic figure as a victim of Austrian hostility.[5]
  7. Della Genga was not considered papabile due to his physical infirmities and the cardinal himself at the conclave tried to discourage the other electors from voting for him. However he was elected because the conclave received information about secret societies who were perceived to have grown in strength during the sede vacante and some cardinals wanted a quick conclusion to the conclave and his physical condition made some cardinals think that his pontificate would not last long.[3]
  8. Sarto emerged as an alternative candidate after the veto of Mariano Rampolla.
  9. Ratti was elected as a compromise candidate between the conservative faction headed by Rafael Merry del Val and the moderate faction headed by Pietro Gasparri. Also, Gasparri threw his support behind Ratti and urged his supporters to vote for Ratti.[51]
  10. Some commentators like William Doino dispute the contention that Roncalli was a non-papabile and argue that "[b]y the time of Pius XII’s death, in 1958, Cardinal Roncalli 'contrary to the idea he came out of nowhere to become pope' was actually one of those favored to be elected. He was well known, well liked and trusted."[52]
  11. Although Luciani wasn't considered papabile, one of the papabile cardinals, Giovanni Benelli used his influence to persuade the others to elect Luciani at the conclave.[53][54]
  12. Wojtyła was elected as a compromise candidate due to the failure of the leading papabili Giuseppe Siri and Giovanni Benelli to obtain the requisite majority and the only other viable Italian compromise candidate Giovanni Colombo announced to the cardinal-electors at the conclave that he would decline the papacy if elected.[55]


  1. "Papa" + suffix "-abile". Compare "combinabile", combinable or able to be combined.
  2. "Papabile". Enciclopedia Treccani. Fondazione Treccani. Retrieved 3 March 2013.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 Valérie Pirie. "The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves - Leo XII (De la Genga)".
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 Valérie Pirie. "The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves - Pius VIII (Castiglione)".
  5. 1 2 3 Valérie Pirie. "The Triple Crown: An Account of the Papal Conclaves - Concluding Chapter: Leo XIII and His Successors".
  6. Domenico, Roy Palmer. Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Politics: Benedict XV (Giacomo della Chisa).
  7. Lorenzo Cappelletti (August 2006). "Lay that is Christian". 30 Days in the Church and the World. Retrieved 31 January 2014.
  8. 1 2 Weigel, George (21 April 2005). "Conclaves: Surprises abound in the Sistine Chapel". The Madison Catholic Herald Online. Retrieved 13 February 2014.
  9. "Medius vestrum stetit quem vos nescetis. Everybody knew what the pope meant". Domenico Cardinale Tardini, Pio XII, Tipografia Poliglotta Vaticana, 1960, p. 105 (Italian)
  10. Lehnert, Pascalina (1986). Ich durfte Ihm Dienen: Erinnerungen an Papst Pius XII (in German). Würzburg: Naumann. p. 57. ISBN 3885670410.
  11. Lehnert, Pascalina (1986). Ich durfte Ihm Dienen: Erinnerungen an Papst Pius XII (in German). Würzburg: Naumann. p. 49. ISBN 3885670410.
  12. Conclave A.D. 1963 - Election of Pope Paul VI. YouTube video. Accessed 19 October 2013
  13. Graves, Nelson (April 17, 2005). "For papal punters, Ratzinger leads 4-man race". Reuters India. Archived from the original on 26 April 2005.
  14. "Favourites emerge in Pope betting". ITV News. April 14, 2005. Archived from the original on 16 April 2005.
  15. "Betting on papal race heats up". News24. April 17, 2005. Archived from the original on 22 April 2005.
  16. Goodstein/Fisher (April 17, 2005). "Cardinals Align as Time Nears to Select Pope". The New York Times. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  17. Oaks, Tammy (April 19, 2005). "Bookmakers lay odds on new pope". CNN International. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  18. Sullivan, Andrew (18 April 2005). "Time 100 2005". Time. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  19. 1 2 Goodstein, Laurie and Elisabetta Povoledo. "Before Smoke Rises at Vatican, It's Romans vs. the Reformers," The New York Times. 11 March 2013; Ivereigh, Austen. "Does cardinal confusion spell a long conclave?" Our Sunday Visitor. 11 March By Austen Ivereigh; excerpt, "A former communications director to the Archbishop emeritus of Westminster (England), Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, he accompanied the cardinal to Rome in 2005 for the funeral of Pope John Paul II and election of Pope Benedict XVI". Retrieved 12 March 2013.
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "One Of These Men Will Be The Next Pope". Business Insider. 11 February 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2013.
  21. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 "Choose your own pope – with our interactive Pontifficator". The Guardian. 12 March 2013. Contains descriptions of all 115 cardinal electors, 13 of whom are marked as papabili.
  22. Neil Young's Film Lounge: Father Figures: Vatican Lounge's Papabile Focus on the 266th Pope. Retrieved 15 March 2013
  23. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 Huffington Post Papabile 2013: Top Contenders To Be Next Pope As We Enter Conclave. March 10, 2013. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  24. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 John L. Allen Jr. (March 3, 2013). "Papabile of the Day: The Men Who Could Be Pope - Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Retitled as "Profile: New pope, Jesuit Bergoglio, was runner-up in 2005 conclave")". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  25. "The top contenders to be the next pope". Retrieved 9 August 2013.
  26. Allen, Jr., John L. (14 April 2005). "Handicapping the conclave". National Catholic Reporter. Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  27. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Donadio, Rachel; Povoledo, Elisabetta (12 February 2013). "Pope Resigns with Church at Crossroads". New York Times. pp. A1–A11. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "A look at possible papal contenders". CNN. Archived from the original on 2 March 2013. Retrieved 2 March 2013.
  29. 1 2 "New pontiff by March says Vatican". The Irish Times. 11 February 2013.
  30. 1 2 3 Sandro Magister (7 March 2013). "An American in Rome, Bound for the Chair of Peter". Retrieved 15 March 2013.
  31. "Mögliche Nachfolger: Wer hat die größten Chancen
    den Platz von Joseph Ratzinger einzunehmen?"
    . NewsAT. 11 February 2013.
  32. "Hungarian Erdo "favourite as next pope" - papal entourage". The Italian Insider. 11 February 2013.
  33. 1 2 CBS News (2013). "Archbishop Peter Erdo of Esztergom-Budapest, Hungary". CBS News. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  34. Connor, Tracy (20 February 2013). "Boston's sandal-wearing Cardinal O'Malley getting papal buzz". NBC News. Retrieved 20 February 2013.
  35. "Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet among frontrunners to replace Pope Benedict XVI". National Post. 11 February 2013.
  36. 1 2 3 Donadio, Rachel; Alan Cowell (11 February 2013). "Pope Benedict XVI Says He Will Resign". The New York Times. Retrieved 11 February 2013.
  37. "Papal conclave: Runners and riders". BBC News. Retrieved 12 February 2013.
  38. 1 2 Henry Chu, (March 9, 2013). "The men who might be pope". Fox News. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  39. Allen, Jr., John L. (26 February 2013). "Papabile of the Day: The Men Who Could Be Pope". National Catholic Register. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  40. 1 2 Tom Heneghan, (March 1, 2013). "Cardinals start to winnow down papal candidates lists". Reuters. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  41. 1 2 Paolo Gambi (March 5, 2013). "The men who could be pope: Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi". Catholic Herald. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  42. Katharine Lackey (March 10, 2013). "CARDINAL GIANFRANCO RAVASI". USA Today. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  43. 1 2 Associated Press, (March 10, 2013). "Top contenders as cardinals move toward historic conclave to elect next pope". Fox News. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  44. Sandri, Leonardo (11 February 2013). "Argentine Cardinal Possible Successor To Pope Benedict XVI". The Huffington Post.
  45. Gerard O'Connell, Andrea Tornielli (March 2, 2013). "Un ticket per votare il primo Papa latinoamericano". La Stampa. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  46. ABC News (March 10, 2013). "Cardinal Christoph Schonborn: Papal Contender". ABC News. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  47. BBC New (March 12, 2013). "Papal conclave: Runners and riders". BBC. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  48. Andrea Tornielli (March 3, 2013). "Scola becomes "papabile" again: The Americans are also with him". La Stampa. Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  49. "Ghana's Turkson Favorite to Succeed Benedict as Pope". Bloomberg. 11 February 2013.
  50. Kertzer, David I. (2014). The Pope and Mussolini: The Secret History of Pius XI and the Rise of Fascism in Europe. Random House. ISBN 978-0812993462.
  51. Doino, William Jr. (2 July 2012). "Pope John XXIII: Conserver of Tradition". First Things. Retrieved 28 April 2014.
  52. Time Magazine. In Rome, a Week off Suspense 28 August 1978
  53. Time Magazine. A Swift, Stunning Choice 4 September 1978
  54. Thomas Reese, S.J. (1998). Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church. Harvard University Press. pp. 91 & 99. ISBN 978-0-674-93261-6.

External links

Look up papabile or papabili in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
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