VATICAN CITY (CNS) — While all bishops offer to resign at age 75, those who are not cardinals and are working in the Roman Curia — including as presidents of pontifical councils — automatically end their service on their 75th birthdays, said a new document from Pope Francis.
The ministry of a bishop in a diocese or in the Roman Curia requires a total commitment of energy, and anything — including age — that decreases the ability to dedicate oneself fully to serving the church and the faithful is a valid reason for offering to retire, said the brief new document, released by the Vatican Nov. 5.
The text of “dispositions regarding the resignation of diocesan bishops and holders of offices of pontifical nomination” was signed by Pope Francis Nov. 3 and was to take effect Nov. 5.
Passionist Father Ciro Benedettini, a Vatican spokesman, said there was “nothing truly new” in the document, but it is a “strong re-proposal of existing norms.”
The 1983 Code of Canon Law and the 1990 Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches already require most bishops to submit their resignations at the age of 75; the pope is not required, however, to accept them.
The new document says that when the pope accepts a bishop’s retirement, the bishop automatically ceases to hold any fixed-term office he may have on a national level, for example as an officer of the national bishops’ conference.
The document also formally restated the power of the pope in a “fraternal dialogue” to request a bishop’s resignation when he believes it is necessary, “after having made known the reasons for such a request.”
St. John Paul II’s 1988 constitution on the organization of the Curia required all cardinals and bishops working at the Vatican to submit offers of resignation at 75. However, in the 1988 document, only non-cardinal “moderators and secretaries” of Vatican offices automatically retired at 75.
The new document says, “Non-cardinal heads of dicasteries in the Roman Curia, the secretaries and bishops who fulfill other offices of pontifical nomination forfeit their office on the completion of their 75th year.”
With the exception of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, which was without a prefect when the papal document was published, in early November all congregations were headed by a cardinal as were eight of the 12 pontifical councils.
The four non-cardinals who head pontifical councils are: Archbishops Claudio Maria Celli, 73, president of the council for social communications; Vincenzo Paglia, 69, president of the council for the family; Zygmunt Zimowski, 65, president of the council for health care ministry; and Rino Fisichella, 63, president of the council for promoting new evangelization.
In addition to fulltime staff members, Vatican congregations and pontifical councils also have members who include both the heads of other Vatican offices as well as cardinals, bishops, priests, religious and laity from around the world. Pope Francis reaffirmed that membership automatically ends when a person turns 80, although he added that if the person is a member of a congregation or council because of the main office he holds, when he retires from his main office his term as a member of other congregations and councils also ends.
Canon law permits a bishop to resign before age 75 “because of ill health or some other grave cause,” but the new document praises bishops who do so because they realize they are no longer able to fulfill their obligations.
“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,” it says. “In such cases the faithful are called to demonstrate solidarity and understanding for the one who was their pastor, providing him punctual assistance in accordance with the requirements of charity and justice.”
The document says Pope Francis made his decisions based on 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.”