17 June 2020

Episcopal Resignations, and the 'time limit'

It is commonly held that bishops "must" offer their resignations to the Roman Pontiff at the age of 75. I think this assumption (for that is what it is) needs to be reconsidered.

A starting-point must be found in the sacramental structure of the Church. We must discard the idea, which has, I think, grown during this pontificate, that a bishop is a district manager in a multinational corporation and is liable to dismissal. He is not. He is a Successor of the Apostles and the charismatic High Priest and sacramental organ of his local, that is, particular, Church. The only exemplifications of the Church Militant by divine institution are the Universal Church, gathered round Peter, and the particular Church gathered round her Bishop. Everything else is merely organisational and, in principle, transient.

It is to the credit of those who wrote the current Code of Canon Law that they understood this, at least to the extent of not making episcopal resignation automatic. Only a bishop can truly be the judge in this matter. I would only countenance a different approach in contexts of major ecclesiastical crisis, in which a primatial intervention may be necessary. The Arian crisis; the case of episcopal traditores after persecutions; the reforms of S Gregory VII; might be examples of this.

But the authors of the 1983 CIC in fact went further in their reticence than this. They did not make it mandatory for a bishop to resign, at 75 or at any othrr age. In Canon 401 para 1 (which has no antecedent in the 1917 Code) they said that a bishop is "asked" to offer his resignation. "Rogatur".

And there is more!

Para 2 says that a bishop who, through illness or another grave cause, has become 'minus aptus' to the exercise of his 'officium',"enixe rogatur" to offer his resignation. "enixe" means something like 'strenuously'. But in the previous paragraph, where the age of 75 appears, the adverb enixe  is absent. In other words, the 'request' that a bishop offer his resignation at 75 is not as strongly urged as the advice offered to very sick bishops.

If enixe, semantically, has any meaning, then the absence of the word must also have meaning. If enixe strengthens, then its absence weakens.

I would like to see an understanding that, whatever advice is politely given in Canon Law, the Apostolic status of a bishop and his own personal responsibility before God for the decision he makes, are not taken away.

6 comments:

Peter said...

Father, I think that Pope Benedict understood his role as Trustee rather than director: he had powers aplenty but a duty to exercise these appropriately which might well mean rarely. Perhaps this applies also to a bishop.
There may be scope for better preparation for potential appointments as bishop in what you refer to as managerial matters. Employment law and practice, health and safety, safeguarding and financial management would be topics that a bishop should understand sufficiently to avoid stupid decisions.
There may also be scope for reviewers or inspectors to visit each diocese regularly to see if all is going well and share good practice.
This might even inform a pope in the rare exercise of his power to dismiss a bishop.

Protasius said...

In this context it might be interesting to remember that the same word “enixe” also appears in the canon which “seriously asks” priests to daily offer the eucharistic Sacrifice (can. 276 para 2: enixe igitur sacerdotes invitantur ut cotidie Sacrificium eucharisticum offerant).

PM said...

I suspect that Canon 401 was introduced to spare the Holy See from having to force the resignation of prelates who cling stubbornly to office long after they have been physically (and even mentally) capable of exercising it. I could name some names, but will decline to do so in the interests of charity.

The trouble is that legislating for prudence is impossible. Some men will be spent before they reach 70, others will be brimming with health at 85.

And I must plead for recogntion of the integrity of Papa Ratzinger. I have complete trust in his judgement, and I should like to see how some of the people who carp at him for resigning would manage being pope at 90. Yes, he still his formidable wits and can write - but can work at full pitch for only a few hours a day because of declining physical strength, if you read accounts of his current regime carefully.

E sapelion said...

There is of course the regretable precedent of the deposition of Errington as Co-adjutor of Westminster, by papal fiat. Just five weeks less than 160 years ago. However had Archbishop Errington chosen to appeal under canon law, he would have had an irrefutable case.

Amateur Brain Surgeon said...

Dear Father. Well, these sorts of decisions were taken during the revolution when it was thought " We must become more like the world."

During his reign, Pope Paul VI ,abruptly, without consultation, issued a motu proprio that forbid Cardinals to vote in papal elections once they reached 80 years of age:

When Fr. Raymond Dulac was asked his opinion of Paul Vi’s decision to take away the right of voting in papal elections from cardinals 80 years and older, he made these statements:

This decision taking away the right of voting in the papal election from a whole category of cardinals, is an enormous decision. Until now, the most important part of their function was this right. It commands and effects their beheading in the most accurate sense of this word; they keep their hats, but their heads are chopped off. This is what the ancient Romans called diminutio capitis, a lessening or amputation of their civil rights and, of course, of their personality.

Let us not forget that the statute creating the cardinals’ right to elect the Pope dates back to the year 1059; that during the arduous course of this thousand-year period of history this rule was never questioned; that the “impediment” of advanced age has never prevented the creation of a cardinal or the continuing of a Pope once he became 80 years old, that it is contrary to the Catholic spirit and the Roman Tradition to suspend a law supported by such a time-honored custom without most grave reasons; and that this type of change, affected by the Pope in 1970 in such a sudden, personal, and suspicious way, will increase most people’s feelings of insecurity, instability, and the alienation which as contributed to de-sacralizing the Church and loosening its customs.

Let us forget the inhuman, vain, vile aspects of this decision concerning the age of men whose sacerdotal ordination had separated them from mortal mankind as far as powers and dignities are concerned.

After this blow and all the others of the past five years designed to naturalize and laicize the clergy, how could one have the heart to keep on telling the ordained young priests: ”Tu es sacerdos in aeternum secundum ordinem Melchisedech ?

" Priest for all eternity? Of what order? Not of the carnal Levitical tribe, but of the order of that astonishing, unique, ageless personage, Melchisedech, whose mystery is revealed in the Epistle to the Hebrews, verse 3 of Chapter 7: “Without father, without mother, without genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but likened unto the Son of God, continueth a priest forever.”

This all being over, today’s priest is just like an official who, in due course, is “retired,” with a life pension, like a Swiss guard.


There are several reasons why he may have made the decision- ABS thinks it was because it gave him the opportunity to get rid of Cardinals of a Traditional bent and replace them with Cardinals sympathetic to the revolution within the form of Catholicism.

In any event, at the time the Church had opened itself up to the world and so it began to ape the world in its ideas and as ideas have consequences we get such things as forced retirements and Pope Benedict's retirement because he was tired and had reduced energy, just like a CEO of a major corporation.

Was this opening up to the world a wise or prudent decision?

Well, has the world become more christian or has the church become more worldly?

Ana Milan said...

Supposing his responsibility is not to God but to the Dark One, what then? Has the Church to endure his presence in the shutdown of churches, seminaries, schools etc. in his diocese while he spends his time at his beach house with his chosen seminarians or enabling bishops of his own kind? These types of Prelates shouldn't be afforded the grace to decide when to leave ministry, for in justice, they should never have attained those positions in the first instance.