Canonical law requires bishops to retire at 75 years of age. But many bishops do not want to leave the chair. The latest case is the Archbishop of Chicago: “I hope the Pope refuses my resignation”
The latest to “rebel” against mandatory resignation at 75 years of age isCardinal Francis George, Archbishop of Chicago and, until last year, President of the American Conference of Bishops. From the beginning of his pontificate, Benedict XVI has come under some pressure to abolish the rule established by Paul VI on the retirement age for ecclesiastics. So while most Western governments are grappling with the protests of citizens required by the exigencies of public finances to stay at work longer, the Roman Curia is receiving opposite signals from the Sacred College.
Despite the prominent appeals that have rained down upon the Holy See, Benedict XVI has continued, as did his two immediate predecessors, to retire bishops and cardinals at 75 years (as required by the rule established by Pope Paul VI),without extending the retirement age to 80 years, as many have requested. Based on under the first paragraph of canon 401 of the Code of Canon Law – the text approved in 1983 and signed by John Paul II in the fifth year of his pontificate –bishops are required to submit to the Pope their resignation from the pastoral governance of their dioceses at 75 years of age. According to the rules set down by the current “charter” that regulates the internal life of the Catholic Church, the issue of resignation and renunciation is armor-plated. As a rule, then, Benedict XVI has almost always accepted appointing a new bishop, barring some unforeseen extension for reasons of force majeure.
Joseph Ratzinger does not believe it appropriate to set aside the rule that requires ecclesiastics to submit their resignation upon reaching the age of 75. The former head of the American bishops supports raising the retirement age for ecclesiastics. Cardinal Francis George, in fact, has said he hopes that Benedict XVI “does not accept the letter of resignation” he must send next month according to the Code of Canon Law. On 16 January, the cardinal (the first ecclesiastic to occupy the post of Archbishop of Chicago who was also born in that city) will celebrate his 75th birthday, precisely the age upon which the bishops are asked to immediately send their resignation letters to the Vatican. At that point, the Pope can decide to immediately move the “over-75” into retirement or keep him in service until his successor to the episcopal chair is appointed.
Speaking on TV station WLS Channel 7, Cardinal George said that he hopes to stay at work and describes himself as “happy” that his health has improved. Cardinal George also joked about the situation: “I’m the very first Archbishop of Chicago that has lived long enough to do this, and I’m kind of glad about that. I expect to continue on.”
There are many head bishops of dioceses who are waiting for the option to stay in the governance of their local Churches beyond the limits of the Code of Canon Law. Very often, news filters down (never confirmed by the facts) about the Pope’s intention to remove the bishops’ mandatory resignation at 75 years and set the new limit at 78 years. Essentially, it is often hypothesized that Benedict XVI would grant another three years of pastoral governance to the approximately 4,000 bishops who currently oversee, as delegated by the Pope, the government of dioceses worldwide. Only bishops who hold administrative offices – such as those involved in the Vatican Curia, the Conferences of Bishops, the nunciatures – would be excluded from this benefit, with a view to, in the more-or-less near future, changing the retirement requirement for bishops without pastoral duties as well. The jurisdiction of any dossier in this regard on this subject would fall to the Congregation of Bishops. Many requests on this subject have been received by the Roman Curia from bishops on five continents.