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Francis has confirmed Church law regarding the retirement age for diocesan and Curia bishops who are expected to hand in their resignation when they turn 75. He explained Canon 401 of the Code of Canon Law more clearly and in greater detail. This rule states that the Pope may ask a bishop to step down earlier than the set retirement age, having “examined all the circumstances”.
The rescript on the “dispositions regarding the resignation of diocesan bishops and holders of offices of pontifical nomination” came into force this afternoon and is composed of seven paragraphs. The new decisions were based on current Canon Law and on “the recommendations of the Council of Cardinals” assisting him “in the preparation of the reform of the Roman Curia and in the governance of the church,” the famous C9, which Parolin himself is a member of.
The text essentially says that the serious commitment entailed in the ordained ministry which is to be seen as service (diakonia) to God’s People, requires those entrusted with this task to invest all their energy in performing it well. Given the challenges today’s society poses, it is all the more important for bishops to be competent and possess the right human and spiritual qualities and abilities. Hence the Pope confirmed the retirement age of 75 for bishops but also stressed that a bishop’s resignation must be approved by the Pope before it becomes official, thus in some cases diocesan bishops’ mandates may be prolonged as has happened in the past and as continues to happen. Bishops who retire, automatically cease to hold any fixed-term office they may have on a national level. For example, there can no longer be cases such as that of Archbishop Robert Zollitch who kept his post as President of the German Bishops’ Conference even after he stepped down as head of the Diocese of Freiburg.
Worthy of the church’s appreciation is the gesture of one who, motivated by love and the desire for a better service to the community, believes it is necessary because of ill health or other serious reason to renounce his office as pastor before reaching the age of 75,” one of the paragraphs of the text states.
The most innovative part of the text is paragraph 5. It reaffirms the Pope’s power to request a bishop’s resignation when he believes it is necessary, “after having made known the reasons for such a request and in the context of a “fraternal dialogue”. The Pope already had the power to remove bishops from office – a recent case was the removal of Paraguayan monsignor Rogelio Ricardo Livieres and Benedict XVI also asked a number of bishops to resign during his pontificate. But now this has been stressed even more clearly.
As far as Curia members are concerned, it appears Pope Francis intends to be less flexible regarding extensions for over-75-year-olds. According to the current Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus which presents the structure of the Roman Curia, after their 75th birthday, cardinals are requested to present their resignation to the Pope. Cardinals who are also heads of dicasteries are not only requested to hand in their resignation, but are bound to do so. Once the Pope has considered all aspects, he then proceeds. Meanwhile, “non-cardinal heads of dicasteries in the Roman Curia, the secretaries and bishops who fulfil other offices of pontifical nomination forfeit their office on the completion of their 75th year.”
The norms published today are a “strong re-proposal of existing norms,” the Vatican Press Office said in a statement. They also put into practice Pope Francis’ request for a bishop’s ministry to be one of service and not just a title or some kind of award.