Mandatory papal retirement? Non!

Mandatory papal retirement? Non!

Ed Peters agrees that talk of a mandatory papal retirement age is silly, that since the Pope is the supreme legislator of the Church, there is no person or body with the authority to require that he step down. Even if a pope were to pass such a law, his successor only has to repeal it.

Speaking of retirement, the Pope missed Ash Wednesday Mass at the Vatican for the first time today. He’s still very frail. According to Inside the Vatican magazine, the Pope was within ten minutes of death when he was rushed to the hospital on February 1. (The whole article is a fascinating inside look at the actual events that night.) The Pope has surprised us before, falling very ill before bouncing back, almost miraculously, but even for him there will one day be no bounce back. At 84-years-old, rapidly approaching 85, with a number of serious ailments, it’s likely to be sooner than later. I’ll be happy to be surprised, but I suspect I won’t be.

Written by
Domenico Bettinelli
9 comments
  • Something that would perhaps be good is for the reigning pope to officially name the person who is to fill in when he is incompacitated.  As it stands now, we are left guessing who is in charge.

  • No one can “fill in” for the Pope’s unique duties. For those things that involve governance, the Secretary of State already has the authority to take care of them.

    But for making teaching statements or appointing (i.e. confirming) bishops, only the Pope can do that, at least under current canon law.

    You are either the Pope, with all the authority of the office, or you are not.

  • Carrie, the pope can’t “name” his successor, as far as I know.  The cardinals have to vote, I believe.

    Domenico, I believe that Giovanni Battista Cardinal Re can give the pope a list to rubber stamp.  In fact, I would bet that has been happening for a little while here.  I’m wondering just how much of the day-to-day work is being done by the Pope.  I think not much…

  • What scares me about this is—that what killed my father (who had Parkinson’s) was when his throat no longer worked as it should.  He couldn’t swallow properly so he basically drowned—fluid into his lungs. 

  • While it is no doubt true that you are either pope or you are not, reality indicates that someone, or a lot of someones, are acting on his behalf right now.  As it is, there is a lot of speculation about who that someone really is.  More than one name is being mentioned here and there, and the impression this leaves is that chaos reigns.  And so I wonder just how long chaos has reigned, since we are still officially being told that “The Pope did this” or “The Pope did that” when clearly he was not capable of doing any of it.  Like when he is in the hospital and still running the show, supposedly.

  • The church isn’t a business or a country. The pope isn’t a CEO or a president. He is our father, our teacher. And now he is teaching more by his actions than by his words.
    One of the matters the pope has spoken about often and at length is the sacredness of life at all ages from conception to death. Right now he is bearing wonderful witness to the whole world that people do not become irrelevant when they get old. The value of human life is not in its usefulness. The value in the Pope’s leadership may not be in “doing” anything. Right now he is bearing the cross given to him by Christ. I think we need this particular witness now more than ever. Karol Wotijla never asked to be Pope, he was elected, chosen, called by the Holy Spirit acting through the college of cardinals. It is his vocation. Just as my father cannot lay down his fatherhood, cannot retire from that role, I do not think the Pope can lay down his office. Just as I will continue to honor and obey my father until the day God calls him home (may it be many, many years from now) even if he becomes incapable of “doing” anything for me, I believe the Church should understand John Paul II as a model of heroic fatherhood following in the footsteps of Christ. He went where he was called and no amount of suffering could make him lay down his cross.  John Paul II’s first words as Pope were “Be not afraid.” I think we should remember them now. Old age, disease, suffering are not to be feared but to be embraced because they are obviously the way in which God has called us to take up our cross daily and follow him. (incidentally the message in today’s gospel.) What would it say to the world if John Paul retired? What kind of Christian witness is that. I think God knows what is in the best interest of His church and will call the Pope home to Him when he is ready. 

  • Well said, Melanie!

    Also, let us not forget that “all those people” who may be assisting the Pope in this period are themselves people of strong faith, who know and uphold the teachings of the Church.  God did not put them there for nothing.

    While prudence in organizational matters is important, Faith in the guidance of the Holy Spirit should be even more important.  God is in charge of His Church and no temporary incapacitation of the Pope will affect His work.

    Let us focus on showing our Faith every day as the Pope continues to do, although he is doing it in different, unexpected and perhaps uncomfortable (for us) ways.

  • Oh I’m sure we’re looking at delegated authority now.  I’m also sure they’re some wrangling around going on.  But for the time being, I think we’re in good hands……And in the long haul, of course, God will take care of the Church.

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