Experts Suggest Dropping ‘Pope Emeritus’ Title in Bills for Retired Popes

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis’ plan to visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila and its basilica on Aug. 28 has fueled speculation that he might announce his resignation, which he strongly denied.

The Basilica of L’Aquila is the burial place of Saint Celestine V, who issued a decree declaring a pope’s right to resign voluntarily, and then did so in 1294. It was also where, above- above Pope Celestine’s glass coffin, then -Pope Benedict XVI left his woolen pallium he had worn during his installation Mass – a gesture that many wondered had been a sign of his resignation to come four years later.

In the more than 700 years since St. Celestine set this legal precedent, a pope’s right to resign remains guaranteed in Church law.

The law is not very detailed, saying only that the decision must be made freely and “duly manifested”, and no one needs to formally accept a pope’s resignation for it to be valid.

“It is no longer inconceivable that a Pope resigns, this door being ‘open’, as Francis himself has said on several occasions.”

This means that nothing in canon law covers the legal status of the bishop of Rome who resigns his office: what is his title, his name, his place of residence and his means of subsistence? What is his relationship to his successor, his role, responsibilities and powers in the church? And how will his funeral and burial be? These are just some of the questions canon lawyers would like answered as part of their task to avoid confusion, promote unity, and protect the dignity and rights of a retired pope. in the wings.

A canon lawyer and consultant to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts said the “obvious symbolism” of visiting L’Aquila would be the perfect opportunity for the pope to finally enact the legislation needed to close many loopholes regarding a resigning pope.

Canonist, Geraldina Boni, told Catholic News Service, “It is no longer inconceivable that a pope should resign, that door having been ‘opened,’ as Francis himself has repeatedly said.”

Instead of “pope emeritus,” the proposal says the retired pontiff “shall receive the title of bishop emeritus of Rome.”

However, “this situation must be regulated” as well as what to do when a pope is unable to govern the universal Church while completely, permanently and irreversibly impaired or impaired due to illness. debilitating or other conditions, she said in an email response. to questions in early August.

Boni is professor of canon law at the prestigious “Alma Mater Studiorum” of the University of Bologna. She and other canonists launched a project in 2021 to draft legislative proposals that could be studied and discussed on an online platform with the aim of presenting the suggestions to the “supreme legislator”, the Pope, for consideration.

The proposed norms can be found on progettocanonicosederomana.com with a proposal for an “apostolic constitution” to regulate a fully hobbled Roman see and another on the legal status or “canonical condition of the bishop of Rome who has resigned his office” .

The Church owes immense gratitude to the shepherd who, “moved by faith and love for Jesus Christ, decided to accept and bear, perhaps for many years, the heavy and difficult burden of the Roman pontificate “, says the proposal on the resignations.

Many of the suggestions reflect the approaches most often taken by retired Pope Benedict, who had to lead the way when he stepped down.

Thus, she says, “rather than binding prescriptions drawn from canonical legislation, these provisions above all contain some appropriate guidelines which must be applied with caution”, and they are intended to be “particularly respectful of the personal dignity” of the retired pope. .

Many of the suggestions reflect the approaches most often taken by retired Pope Benedict, who had to lead the way when he stepped down.

For example, the proposal says that “the manifestation of the resignation should preferably be put in writing and ordinarily presented in a consistory of the College of Cardinals or in another manner which makes it publicly known”.

Furthermore, “the name of the one who has resigned may be the same as that which he used during his term of office”, he “may use the white cassock which the Roman pontiffs customarily wear” and he may reside wherever he chooses, including including Vatican City. The papal “fisherman’s ring” and the seal used to issue papal documents must also be destroyed, the proposal says.

But the biggest departure in the proposal from what Pope Benedict has done concerns the title of the retired pope.

“The bishop emeritus of Rome neither assumes nor recovers the dignity of cardinal nor the functions attached thereto.”

Instead of “pope emeritus,” the proposal says that the retired pontiff “receives the title of bishop emeritus of Rome” and that he “uses the ring that every bishop must wear.” Some photos of the retired pope show him wearing his gold cardinal’s ring.

“The Bishop Emeritus of Rome neither assumes nor recovers the dignity of Cardinal nor the functions attached thereto,” the proposal says, adding, “However, in liturgical and canonical matters, the Bishop Emeritus of Rome has the privileges and faculties attributed to cardinals.

The title, “Pope Emeritus,” has been a matter of debate for some canonists, including Cardinal-designate Gianfranco Ghirlanda, a Jesuit theologian and canon lawyer who will be one of four new cardinals 80 or older than Pope Francis. will breed on August 27. as a symbolic honor to thank him for his service to the church.

“Having two people with the title of ‘pope’, even if we added ’emeritus’, we cannot say that it does not generate confusion in public opinion.”

During a two-day congress on the historical and canonical aspects of a papal resignation, held in L’Aquila last December, Cardinal-designate Ghirlanda said: “To have two people with the title of ‘pope’, even if we added “emeritus”; we cannot say that this does not run the risk of sowing confusion in public opinion.

The idea of ​​more than one pope at a time “dangerously mixes up the precise meaning of the Petrine ministry, which is that of being a sign of church unity, therefore a sign of church unity”, he said in his talk.

He said retired Pope Benedict had a “deeply spiritual and mystical” understanding of his papal election in that one can resign from office and continue “to exercise a function which is also part of the Petrine ministry”. , as a dedication to prayer. .

Although he believes the retired pope did not intend to make any sort of “dogmatic or canonical” statement with his title, the cardinal-designate said a canonical lawyer must consider “the practical consequences of a theoretical statement: involve? What’s really going on?”

Theoretical claims “cannot be valid,” he said, if they contradict “the purpose for which one has an institution in the church, especially institutions of divine right,” he said. . Such assertions “must be corrected or at least interpreted in such a way as not to create misunderstandings and erroneous interpretations having serious repercussions on the life of the Church”.

“The title ‘former Roman pontiff’ or ‘former supreme pontiff’ could also have been given” to indicate that the person who resigned is no longer pope, he said.

Boni told CNS, “We will see if the work done by us university professors has been taken into account – even criticizing it or deviating from it – by the eventual writers of any papal legislation.”

“It is certain that the broad debate that has developed on the issue has helped to dismantle a taboo that had no reason to exist,” she said.

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