Friday, May 3, 2013



Emeritus bishops are all over the place in the Church, emeritus cardinals too. Our Diocese of Savannah has two emeritus bishops. When a bishop reaches the age of 75 they must submit their resignation and it becomes official when it is accepted by the pope.

To say the least, it is very odd to have an emeritus pope although there is a precedent for it in history, but very rare. To have an emeritus pope living in the Vatican, though, is unprecedented, history in the making.

I liked the idea that the pope was pope for life. But the worry wart that I am, I often thought of what could happen to any pope young or old suffered a stroke that completely incapacitated them and robbing them of their intellectual capacity? I've visiting such people with these kinds of strokes who live for years in a nursing facility. Some live to be well into their 90's.

What would happen to the curia, already, evidently, out of control, if there was an incapacitated pope? During the waning years of Pope John Paul II I think the curia was taking on authority it should never have had and it was hard for even Pope Benedict to put that toothpaste back in the tube where it belonged. Power does seem to corrupt, especially power taken that doesn't belong to the one exercising it.

It probably is wise for there to be a canon law stating that when a pope is deemed incapacitated (for example what if he developed a serious mental illness) for there to be a juridical, open canon law trial to determine if he should be removed. What if the pope came out tomorrow and said women could be ordained. We already know that it has been declared that the male priesthood is a part of the Ordinary Magisterium of the Church and there is no need for an extraordinary Magisterial decree stating the obvious. The pope simply has no authority to allow for the ordination of women. The pope is not the "Wizard of Oz" or "Oz the Great and Wonderful." He is quite limited in his authority and let us all thank God for that. We see where unlimited authority given to democratic processes in Protestant Communions has led them into heresy.

So the Church is protected from power-corrupted popes although a power-corrupted pope could wreck havoc on the Church prior to being deposed. Can a pope be deposed? I ask, you answer!


AL said...

I agree, and, perhaps, our Emeritus Pope was laying the groundwork for issues like this since he was an eyewitness to the declining health of Pope John Paul II. I think it is a good thing that he chose to live in the Vatican Monastery removed from the day to day operations and visits of those at work in the Vatican. It sets him apart from Pope Francis yet he still retains the respect he deserves as our Emeritus Pope (still beloved by many).

Anonymous said...

It's "Oz the great and POWERFUL," not "wonderful."

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

Dang! Well that too!

Anonymous 5 said...

But Fr. McD, self-professed ultramontanist that you are, don't you worry that that would give the cardinals and curia too much power over the pope? After all, if the pope _did_ attempt to permit the ordination of women, then by your own admission that would be invalid anyway. (By the way, how is this different from the possibility that VII statements contradicted earlier magisterial teaching?) Additionally--someone help me out here--what is the current authority that prevents appeal of a papal decision to a conciliar authority? Is it canonical or magisterial?

In short, I'd much sooner run the risk of a senile pope than see him subjected to a removal process that could easily be abused.

In short, "I find your lack of faith disturbing."

--Barf Vader

Fr. Allan J. McDonald said...

But the question, remains, ultramontanist that I am, can a pope be "deposed" to which I have no clear answer myself, so I'm just asking. Do we keep a heretical pope in office or should someone slip him poison, which is not unknown in the Holy Roman Church! :)

Pater Ignotus said...

So, in the long history of the papacy we have had only four or five resignations -- it is obviously possible, but not very common. Yet the Church must be prepared for the eventuality, particularly in modern times as medicine discovers new ways to keep men alive longer and longer but not always with full vitality. The 1983 Code of Canon Law provides for it as follows:

Canon 332§1: The Roman Pontiff acquires full and supreme power in the Church when, together with episcopal consecration, he has been lawfully elected and has accepted the election. Accordingly, if he already has the episcopal character, he receives this power from the moment he accepts election to the supreme pontificate. If he does not have the episcopal character, he is immediately to be ordained Bishop.

Canon 332§2: Should it happen that the Roman Pontiff resigns from his office, it is to be required for validity that the resignation be freely made and properly manifested, but it is not necessary that it be accepted by anyone.

The idea of removing a Pope against his will is a much more tricky question. Over the years theologians have advanced many tentative answers, but no official Church teaching has been formulated. There is at least general agreement that a Pope might be removed for heresy -- even among theologians who are adamant that the Pope cannot be removed, this exception is often thrown in. For any other offence or inability, the waters are very muddy indeed.

Marc said...

A practical question necessarily arises in response to Fr. Kavanaugh's point: Since no person can judge the pope, who would determine if he fell into heresy? Presumably, the answer is that only a council could make such a judgment (and, indeed, a council has done so in the past albeit for a deceased pope).

Although, since the College of Cardinals selects the pope, presumably they could simply elect another pope and claim the prior election wasn't valid. And there is historical precedent for that happening as well.

The College of Cardinals solution happened in response to non-doctrinal issues, so that might be the route in the future if the need arose. It's certainly a difficult problem, but thankfully the Church hasn't needed to address it very frequently.

Pater Ignotus said...

What I read said that a pope elected to replace a deposed pope would/could declare the deposed pope to have been 1) heretical and/or 2) deposed properly.