Experts draft proposed laws on status of a retired pope

laws on status of a retired pope

Experts are drafting proposed new laws on the status of a retired pope.

In the 728 years that have passed since St Celestine established this legal precedent, the right of a pope to resign remains ensured in church law.

The law is not very detailed, saying only that the decision must be made freely and “duly manifested”. No one needs to formally accept a pope’s resignation for it to be valid.

The canonist Geraldina Boni told Catholic News Service, “It is no longer inconceivable for a pope to resign, with this door having been ‘opened,’ as Francis himself has said several times”.

However, she added “this situation must be regulated”.

Boni also suggested the need to regulate issues such as what to do when a pope is unable to govern the universal church when he is completely, permanently and irreversibly impeded or impaired because of a debilitating illness or other conditions.

Boni and other canonists launched a project in 2021 to draft legislative proposals that could be studied and discussed on an online platform. The aim is to present the suggestions to “the supreme legislator”, the pope, for his consideration.

One of the proposals is on the legal status or “canonical condition of the bishop of Rome who resigned his office.”

Many of the suggestions mirror the approaches taken by retired Pope Benedict.

For example, the proposal says “the manifestation of the resignation must preferably be put into writing and ordinarily presented in a consistory of the College of Cardinals or in another way that makes it publicly knowable”.

However, some of the suggestions depart from Pope Benedict’s actions, the biggest of which is the retired pope’s title.

Instead of “pope emeritus,” the proposal says the retired pontiff “receives the title of bishop emeritus of Rome,” and he “uses the ring that every bishop must wear”. Photos of the retired Pope show him wearing the cardinal’s ring.

“The bishop emeritus of Rome does not assume or regain the dignity of cardinal nor the functions that are attached to it,” the proposal says. It added, “However, in liturgical and canonical matters, the bishop emeritus of Rome has the privileges and faculties attributed to cardinals”.

Cardinal-designate Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a Jesuit theologian and canon lawyer, said “Having two people with the title of ‘pope,’ even if one added ’emeritus,’ it cannot be said that this might not generate confusion in public opinion”.

The idea of more than one pope at one time “dangerously mixes up the precise meaning of the Petrine ministry. Which is that of being a sign of unity of the church, therefore, one sign of unity of the church,” he said in his talk.

Boni told CNS, “We will see if the work done by us university professors has been considered — even in criticising it or departing from it — by the eventual drafters of any papal legislation”.

“Certainly, the wide debate that has built up on the issue has helped dismantle a taboo that had no reason to exist,” she said of laws on the status of a retired pope.




Additional reading

News category: World.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,