17 September 2018

82, and counting ...

As more and more people wonder about PF's mental health, I have decided to reprint a piece I published about six months ago.
I think PF will soon be 82 years old. Since more and more voices world-wide seem to be talking about the possibility of this pontificate coming to a conclusion, I have been looking through the age-at-death of recent Roman Pontiffs. According to the rough notes I have made on the back of an old envelope next to my computer, the following ages, since Pius XI inclusively, seem at least roughly right [I excluded Pope John Paul I, the one-month pontiff]:
Pius XI, 82; Pius XII, 82; John XXIII, 82; Paul VI, 82; John Paul II, 85. [Benedict XVI was elected at the age of 78 and five years later is still 'making his pilgrimage home'.]

It would be interesting to know how long popes from before this period lived. A priori, it might be expected to be less long, because they had less advantage from modern medical advances. But I don't have enough backs-of-envelopes ...

I do not intend to suggest that an actuary would consider PF's death to be imminent ... although his own words after election, that he expected his pontificate to be only four or five years long, might suggest that he had himself used the backs of his own envelopes! No; my object is totally different.

(1) Conclaves seem very willing to elect quite old prelates to be pope. Curious, when the retirement age for bishops is 75; and, curiouser, one might have thought that bishops had less work and less strain than popes ... but, well, there you go.
(2) We seem to be in the middle of increases in the numbers of the elderly suffering from senile dementia. A quick foray into the Internet suggested to the back of my very humble envelope that perhaps one in six of those beyond the age of 80 has dementia. That really is quite a lot.

So it looks as if we have been distinctly fortunate in the excellent mental health of those elected pope from 1922 right down to the present. Long may our good luck hold!

But can we afford to be complacent? Given statistics like these, and if Conclaves keep electing old men, sooner or later we are going to have a pope with dementia.

If a bishop starts to have worrying symptoms, the Nuncio ... his Metropolitan ... the Congregation for Bishops ... the Pope himself ... all have the opportunity to intervene. But what if the Pope himself ...

Is there canonical provision for such a situation? If not, I think there should be. And, as Fr Aidan Nichols has hinted, there might also be provisions for the situation where the man who was the previous pope promoted heresy; so why not for a pope who, prima facie, is spreading heresy?.

In fact, it seems to me that there should be a whole new section in the CIC called de Romano Pontifice semovendo. The Times recently quoted Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr as remarking that a constitution should be framed with "the bad man" in mind, because a state or an institution needs structures enabling it not merely to potter comfortably along in normal times, but also to survive a despot, or a sociopath, or a dunce ...

The Church Militant needs to take such advice on board. Her survival is indeed divinely guaranteed, but the whole economy of Faith rests on the assumption of a God who works with and through human synergy.


Joshua said...

The parallel with Tibet, ruled for centuries by a succession of allegedly reincarnate Dalai Lamas, weakened by the long regencies necessitated by the minorities of each successive purported rebirth, is sadly instructive: it all ended in disaster, and the enthronement, aged but 15, of the 14th Dalai Lama, did not prevent the surrender of Tibetan independence or the destruction of its cultural heritage and the massacre of many - a tragedy still unfolding and unlikely to end soon, given the return to world power of imperial China under its latest, Communist, dynasty. Entrusting supreme power to the too young - or the too old, in their second childhood - is not a good idea nor one fruitful of blessings.

Joshua said...

On a happier note, the ten oldest popes at death or resignation (after the year 1295) reveals that only one, Leo XIII, lived to be 93; the other nine all pegged out (or gave up their office for fear of the wolves) between 83 and 87. So leaving aside the great Leo (may the next Pope be the fourteenth of that name), I cannot expect this pontificate to last more than another two to six years.

Pelerin said...

Pope Leo XIII was over 90 when he died in 1903. I wonder if there is record of him still having his faculties at that great age?

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Dangerous territory to enter.

Psychiatrists would likely be the ones sought out to make a diagnosis of whether or not the Pope who teaches Tradition is demented and, of course, on the face of it the majority of shrinks would conclude public support for Tradition is evidence of dementia.

But let's consider a Pope who appears to be, shall we say, a little squishy on Catholic Tradition; what shrink would bestir his own self to stop the perplexed pontiff from the obvious self-destruction?

These matters are complex and often confusing to the layman and so it think it would be best if I took a room in Rome and worked closely with Pontiff Perplexed to treat him with psychotherapy and psychotropics to safely extend the Pontificate of this Pope whom the world so loves.

We Catholics must demand our Bishops and Cardinals discharge their duty to Teach, Rule, and Sanctify and that means confronting any perplexed or destructive Pope and correcting him publicly and removing him if he does not accept correction.

William Tighe said...

To go back a bit more:

Pius VI, 81; Pius VII, 81; Leo XII, 68; Pius VIII, 69; Gregory XVI, 80; Pius IX, 85; Leo XIII, 93; Pius X, 79; Benedict XV, 67 ...

orate fratman said...

A good article, Father. I have but one correction: Pope John Paul II died at the age of 84. He died about six weeks before what would have been his 85th birthday.

Ben of the Bayou said...

My dear Father Hunwicke,

Wholeheartedly, I agree with your final two statements, "Her survival is indeed divinely guaranteed, but the whole economy of Faith rests on the assumption of a God who works with and through human synergy." With most of the rest, I cannot agree, save for your well-done number crunching.

I cannot agree because it seems to be that the system is set up as it is, not because of the machinations of avaricious and power-hungry popes, but because the promise of Christ to keep the Church indefectible passes through Peter. Granted, your repeated reminders about the limits of *infallibility* are needed and quite right. Still, the promise is made to Peter, "I have prayed for you (Peter)...."

These truths of the Faith are, I suggest, the basis of the long-standing principle that the first See "a nemo iudicatur". Thus, to have a process by which a Pope could be removed would violate this principle. I am open to the possibility that a good argument could be made for doing just that, but I have yet to see one that convincingly takes into account these dominical promises to Peter and his Successors in the Petrine Office.



Mary Welch said...

Pope John Paul I died when he was 65. Well out of it too, he was.

RichardT said...

"Benedict XVI was elected at the age of 78 and five years later is still 'making his pilgrimage home'."

Father, I think you are missing a phrase there. Perhaps the addition between stars below:

Benedict XVI was elected at the age of 78, *abdicated at the age of 85,* and five years later is still 'making his pilgrimage home'.

[He is currently 90]

Ivanmijeime said...

Here is some interesting information (if correct) about the:
[Average] Ages of popes (post'1503)
Youngest popes,
Ten oldest popes at election (post–1295),
Ten oldest popes at death or resignation (post–1295)

This site might be helpful too:

Sr. Marianne Lorraine Trouve said...

This has a list of popes with their ages at the end of their pontificate:

Even in the 1700's, a good number lived to their early 80s, others to about 70.

Randolph Crane said...

With this article, you have got me all excited for this anticipated conclusion. Maybe my dreams will come true, and our next Sanctissimus et Beatissimus in Christo Pater might be a Pius XIII, Leo XIV, or Benedict XVII. I doubt it, but for God, nothing is impossible. Of course, I wish PF all the best, a long, and happy, and healthy life.

Ronald Sevenster said...

The reason conclaves often prefer an elderly Pope is that he is expected to die soon. From a church political viewpoint, a long pontificate has the disadvantage of giving the Pope much time to change things and to make too many bishops and cardinals of his own liking.

What is to come after Francis remains a surprise of course. But I wouldn't in any way suggest that things will become better. The overwhelming majority of the cardinals are liberals and modernists who won't lift a finger in order to restore Church doctrine and discipline. The Catholic Church is way beyond the point of no return of its disintegration. It is in a fast and seemingly irreversible proces of becoming completely irrelevant as a moral force in Western culture and society.

Randolph Crane said...

I'm sorry, I have sent the comment too early.

I don't think an addition to the CIC would be in line with the Holy Spirit, and the Church teachings. This would just be a different form of Conciliarism: The CIC is above the pope, or the bishops are above the pope, and can dethrone him. The absence of this possiblity shows that the Pope is elected by Cardinals, but it's really the Holy Spirit who choses the Supreme Pontiff. There is no instance above him than Christ, and no one else has power over him than Christ.

As the pontificate of Saint John Paul II came to an end, his health status became worse and worse. In genere, he was not really able to fulfill his papal office anymore. But this doesn't mean he should have been dethroned. He remained Summus Pontifex until his death, as is the usual case.

If the Pope wasn't able to fulfill his duties (maybe he lies in a coma, maybe he has dementia), the College of Cardinals overtake them from him. The Papal Magisterium does not only consist of the Pope, but of the entire Roman Curia, as the theorists of the 15th century have concluded. This would only mean that legislature would be impossible, since the Pope couldn't sanction any official documents.

RichardT said...

"It would be interesting to know how long popes from before this period lived. A priori, it might be expected to be less long, because they had less advantage from modern medical advances."

Actually, there is less difference between the centuries (recent ones at least) than we might expect.

Some early-modern Popes had very long lives; Gregory XIII, successor to Pius V, lived to be 83, dying in 1585. Four of the 17th century Popes lived into their 80s, with Clement X reaching 86.

The averages for the 18th century were very similar to the 20th; in each Popes were, on average, 64 or 65 years old when elected, reigned for 12 or 13 years, and died aged 77. Nor was the 17th century very different (on average elected at 66, reigned 9 years, died at 75).

The good century for long-lived (and long-serving) Popes was the 19th century (on average elected at 62, reigned 17 years, died at 79). The average was helped by Leo XIII, who lived to 93, but most of the 19th century Popes lived into their 80s.

John F. Kennedy said...

Dementia? Nope. I think your later options are more likely. "... a despot, or a sociopath, or a dunce ..."

May the Lord protect His Church and let this time of trial pass.

RichardT said...

Father, you are right that 82 is a dangerous age for a Pope. It seems Popes tend to die either in their late 60s or their early 80s.

Of the 40 deceased Popes from Pius V to John Paul II:
- nearly a third died aged between 80 and 83;
- nearly a third died aged 68 or 69.

The rest tended to die in between, in their 70s. Very few of them died younger than 68 (only 3, including John Paul I), and very few lived to be older than 85 (again, only three).

The second most common Papal age at death in that period is 81, Pope Francis' current age.

Elizabeth said...

Maybe it’s like Congress-critters. A Dem Rep. from NY just died the other day at the age of 90, having been dysfunctional for several years, one of our others (McCain) was getting dysfunctional and now has a terminal disease but has had innumerable terms and won’t gracefully resign and we have a Supreme Court Justice (Ginsburg) who sleeps through hearings, between her age and her health problems. So these life terms or unlimited terms are a disaster.

However, it’s really all about the political party that is in charge. If this person supports the party, they keep the person on even though he or she may be totally dysfunctional.

So I’d say the thing with the papacy is perhaps not an age limit, but a term limit. JPII was basically orthodox but, quite frankly, a bad Pope because he was focused only on himself, thinking that the Church could be carried by a popular pope, and allowed people around him to get away with anything. BXVI tried to change this, but he was too weak and had too little support, mostly because of the miserable appointments made by JPII (which BXVI did not have the courage to change...if anybody was in the pipeline, he didn’t oppose them).

However, if it could be limited in some way - and theologians would have to look into this, to put it mildly - that might benefit the entire Church. It would, however, have to be promulgated by the Pope in possession at the time. So what would be the possibilities of this? Any ideas?

Et Expecto said...

Perhaps one should also take into account that Pope Francis is said to have only one lung. Presumably this affects the expectation of life.

mark wauck said...

To change the topic somewhat--the hilarity continues.

Remember the evil Huenerman, whose authorship of one of those eleven slim volumes so incensed Ratzinger? I'll admit, I bought into that narrative, but OnePeterFive just came up with a nice scoop:

"Hünermann was one of two editors of record for the 2005 German edition of God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, Office by none other than Pope Benedict XVI. Several years later, the book was translated and published in English by Ignatius Press — retaining Hünermann’s editorial credit and his signature on the introduction. … Surely, if he [Ratzinger] had such strong objections to a pope being associated with the anti-papalist Hünermann, there was no better time to have made them known than when his own book was published.”

I have to say it: defending Ratzinger as a bulwark of orthdoxy is a fool's errand.

mark wauck said...

Let me add, in no way am I defending or justifying the behavior of Bergoglio and his flunkies in this tawdry episode. What I am saying is that anyone who thinks the "hermeneutic of continuity" means anything remotely like eodem sensu eademque sententia simply hasn't been paying attention to the details of Ratzinger's career and writings.

Chatto said...

As for popes of previous centuries, I recall that the Henry II character in "The Lion In Winter" (played by Peter O'Toole) declares, "I'm the oldest man I know. I've got 10 years on the Pope!" He earlier refers to being 50 years old, so there perhaps were younger popes in former times, though I assume they died younger in the 12th Century as well.

Tee Pee Gee Eff said...

Pope Frank is, as I often say, the argument for and the argument against Papal resignations wrapped up in one. It was a Papal resignation which started this problem. May he live to be 100, so long as he never resign.

Banshee said...

The Lion in Winter line was ridiculous. A large proportion of the generation previous to Henry's generation (in England, not in France) died young because they were conducting a nasty civil war with famines. (Stephen vs. Matilda.) But although it wasn't everyone who lived to be old, old people were fairly common throughout Europe. Certainly they were common in religious houses; and every village had its old lady or old geezer.

Everybody loves The Lion in Winter, but medievalists tend to mutter to themselves while watching it.

The reason they had younger popes back then was that there was more of an overt power struggle back then. But most popes seem to have been at least in their sixties when elected. (I agree that a demographic study over time would be of interest.)

Banshee said...

Re: the Ratzinger letter, I am constantly amazed at the short memory of most Vaticanologists.

Doesn't anyone remember that crazy German lady's book about Harry Potter? That letter by the then-cardinal acknowledging receipt of the book-gift was awfully polite about it... and it also said that he wasn't going to be reading it.

I'm pretty sure you would get the same thing if you sent him a book on garage sales, or garage bands, or medieval decorative practices.

Both the Vatican and Vaticanologists seem anxious to make much of polite acknowledgment letters that barely avoid being form letters. Maybe the man should stop being so polite, and just send out obvious form letters from now on.

coradcorloquitur said...

Regarding the longevity of this pope, here is my own prediction (despite my lack of vatic powers): Pope Bergoglio will live many more years (again, my prediction is into the low 90s). Do you care to know how I come to that dark conclusion? The malevolent, I have observed in my sixty+ years of life, are endowed by their father with a special energy and resilience. Go figure, as we say in the USA. Not that I wish Pope Bergoglio any ill---just health and happiness and conversion to the True Faith as far away from the See of Blessed Peter as the world's geography would allow.

Anonymous said...

I would be interested to know Ratzinger's full accounting of the pros and cons of resignation. He signaled early on that resignation was a possibility that could or should be revived; and then he did it, in my view to set a personal example, whether or not the moment was or was not opportune. But some of the stated reasons appear to me wrongheaded. There is no need for the bishop of Rome to be a world traveler. Pope Francis has criticized airport bishops and this goes for popes, too. John Paul II it seems felt called to go everywhere to rev up the faithful whose faith was becoming moribund. But this is treating a symptom, not the cause -- making the rounds of an orchard, scattering fertilizer for trees whose root systems have been damaged.

The arborists say, "All trees are sensitive to root disturbance. The effects of [root damage] on existing trees can be quite devastating and can take five to ten years to become fully visible." I don't think I'm stretching an analogy here: "A systemic insecticide can be added to the fertilizer application to reduce insect feeding. Borers commonly attack stressed trees causing significant and irreversible damage. Active damage can be recognized as weeping fluid or sawdust on the trunk, but it is not always visible."

Fertilizer is actually recommended ... but perhaps of primary importance is to stop the activity that is damaging the root system and lay down regular doses of insecticide. Back to the Catholic context, the last two things can & should be done from Rome.

Stephen said...

Well....there are ways one can finesse a demise. You may recall the life of St. Katherine Drexel, early 20th century heiress to a major portion of the Drexel estate, who at the instigation of Pope Leo XII founded an order of nuns, funded in no small measure by her own inheritance. Technically, she passed from this earthly life on March 3, 1955 - at least that is what is documented.

Rumor was for years, however, that the good sisters found ways to keep her propped up in bed as if she were still among the living whenever the trustees of the trust came round in her later years to check up her...as everyone knew that, once they accepted the documentation of her passing, the funding would dry up.


Reminds me of the last line in The sound of music from the nuns who disabled the Nazis car..."Mother Superior, we have a confession to make."

RichardT said...

Chatto said... "the Henry II character in "The Lion In Winter" declares, 'I'm the oldest man I know. I've got 10 years on the Pope!' He earlier refers to being 50 years old"

Inaccurate historical fiction, I'm afraid. When Henry II was 50 (1183), the Pope was the 86 year old Lucius III. Before him was Alexander III, who was 33 years older than Henry and lived to be 81.

The closest to a young Pope was at the beginning of Henry II's reign; the Englishman Hadrian IV. He was something of an ecclesiastical high-flyer and was made Pope at the relatively early age of 54 (and died age 59 from choking on a fly in his wine), but at that point the King was only in his 20s.

The only Pope for a long time who could have been ten years younger than a man of fifty would have been Innocent III, age 37 when elected, but that was not until 1198, nearly ten years after Henry's death.

All the Popes during Henry II's lifetime were older than he was, most of them considerably so.

Old people in medieval times were still old by today's standards. The difference was that a lot more people died young, so the average life expectancy was lower.

Christopher Boegel said...

It seems on further investigation that 1P5 was mistaken that there was any connection btw Hünermann and a Ratzinger.

It seems tha H replied to inquiries explaining that his publishing house simply cashed in on re-publishing some Ratzinger work when he was elected Pope, and his book sales were spiking.

Unknown said...

Spot on! Thank you, anyone thinking this man is going away soon.....can wish upon a star!GOD help us not to waver is what we must pray

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

An excerpt from Pope Paul VI's radial forced retirement question and what it might mean:


According to the Pope’s November 24 Motu Proprio, beginning next January no eighty -year-old cardinal will be able to participate in the election of the Pontiff. Presently, these persons amount to twenty-five. Among them is saintly Cardinal Ottaviani, who celebrated his eightieth birthday on October 29, 1970.

Question: What does His Eminence think about this decision of Paul VI?

Answer: More important than my personal opinion, which could be deemed biased because of my age, I should like to convey the feelings of canons, prelates, and even renowned hierarchs who are unaware of the current problems of the Church. Undoubtedly they all are impressd by this unusual and expeditious way of enacting this grave disruption in the high ecclesiastical hierarchy. This radical change was implemented without previous consultation with experts and specialists, at least to observe the
formalities to a certain extent.

Question: Why did Your Eminence say "unusual?” Perhaps because no one expected such a big upsetting decision?

Answer: It is unusual that, through a Motu Proprio, without previous advice, the pages of the constitution Vacante Sede Apostolica and those of the Code of Canonical Law, which regulated the position of the cardinals, both as to the cooperation they owe the Pontiff for the rule of the world Church, and as to their most important ministry as top electors of the Head of the Universal Church, are suppressed. This Motu Proprio then, is an act of abolition of a multicentennial tradition. It rejects the practice followed
by all ecumenical councils. Regarding the age limit [the Most Eminent Cardinal spoke calmly and composedly, without any sign of uneasiness], should old age be respected, we would be able to sow the seed whose fruits you yourselves would harvest. But here respect was laid aside. ... It is precisely the motivation of age which the Motu Proprio invokes to justify such a grave regulation. In fact, along the centuries, a principle was always deemed immutable, namely, that old people are a firm safeguard of the
Church and its best advisors, for they are rich in experience, wisdom, and doctrine. If, in a given case, these gifts were not present, it sufficed to examine the circumstances concerning this particular person to determine whether disease or mental disturbance made him inept, this check belonging to skillful experts. In Holy Writ,” [the Most Eminent Cardinal was astonishingly bright], "the value of age and the aged are often mentioned. This shows how constructive are the cooperation and guarantee of advanced age in the administration of holy things and in right and efficient pastoral administration. In addition, let us not forget the glory of Pontiffs, who, in their old age, enlightened the Church with their wisdom and sanctity. Finally, when we cardinals are in our eighties, to our credit is a curriculum vitae full of merits, experience, and doctrines at the service of the Church. The Church cannot afford to lose these advantages by accepting only the cooperation of younger and less-experienced people.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...

Question : Eminence, could not this discrimination of octogenarian cardinals by chance affect the Pontiff himself someday?

Answer: Certainly, for the same criterion must be analogically applied to the case of the sovereign Pontiff, be he an octogenarian or be his acts questioned due to age.

Question : Finally, Eminence: What was your impression about this decision of the Pope?

Answer: You will see. I felt flattered each time Paul VI, verbally or in writing, called me u il mio maestro ” (“my master”), but now this act of laying me aside completely is openly contradictory with his autographed letter of October 29. In that, he congratulated me for my eightieth birthday, using affectionate phrases and flattering felicitations for my long, faithful, everyday services to the Church.


According to the November 27, 1970 issue of La Croix , 86-year-old Cardinal Tisserant, who enjoys full mental clarity and excellent physical health, answered questions on Italian Television (First Network). I quote La Croix:

Rarely had an interview attained such importance and contained such interesting information. In just three minutes, the audience was informed about the Pope’s critical health condition (“he had to be held up on the way out of his Wednesday audience”), about the Cardinal’s excellent state of health, about Christ having founded His Church under the form of a monarchic state , and
about the collegiality of the bishopric about which we have heard so much (“The more it is mentioned, the less it is exercised”).

Apropos of Paul Vi’s decision to keep the election of the Pope in the hands of less-than-80-year-old cardinals, Cardinal Tisserant said he did not know the grounds thereof (though the Pontifical document stated them clearly), and that, undoubtedly, the Pope wanted to please young people , since “now, everybody wants old people to disappear

Wednesday afternoon. Professor Alessandrini categorically denied the Cardinal’s words regarding the Pope’s health condition.

Mick Jagger Gathers No Mosque said...


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 has 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: ”7u 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 f 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.

Unknown said...

Does anyone remember the hysteria whipped up during the last pontificate by the liberal camp about the need for Popes to abdicate at 80? Morris West even wrote an entire novel in support of this idea.

Strangely, they went curiously silent on this point when Francis turned 80.

Scribe said...

Dear Father, If Pope Francis were to depart this life fairly soon, wouldn't Pope Benedict be Pope again? Having two of them has always been confusing, and I for one would be delighted if Benedict could be gently helped up on to the Apostolic Throne.