Can the Pope retire?

I am not saying that he should. However, I am wondering, given his frail health, if he has the option or must serve until death.

The pope can abdicate; there was a revision of canon law in the 1980s that provides for this (although six popes have abdicated, none since A.D. 1415).

However, the Pope doesn’t want to abdicate. And there are no provisions for the papacy if the pope becomes senile or lapses into a long-term coma, etc.

An article in the LA Times this weekend talked about how hard it was for anyone in the RCC to even bring up the topic of abdication/retirement. If the Pope were a parish priest or a bishop, he would have been forced to retire at age 80 (or earlier if his superiors felt he wasn’t capable anymore). However, the Pope only answers to God.

And God ain’t talkin’

Not to be cynical but I was wondering if they decided to keep up the pope’s hectic summer schedule to aid his “natural retirement”. I am sure his current world tour is not going to improve his health any.

Reportedly, towards the end of his Papacy, Paul VI wanted to step down due to his failing health, and was strongly advised not to. That may have had something to do with the revision of canon law. Even if it doesn’t present a legal crisis, the RCC would not like to have to figure out how to deal with a retired Pope from the standpoint of protocols and so on.

So if the Pope goes into a coma, do they pull a Weekend at Bernie’s? Or is the RCC just without a pope for a while? As BobT said there are no provisions for this but what would they likely do?

I don’t think they would do anything. There really aren’t any pressing matters the Pope has to deal with on a day-to-day basis (see: length of time between Galileo’s excommunication and pardon). The day-to-day activities of the Vatican could certainly be taken over by the residing Cardinals. Any “For The Pope’s Eyes Only” documents would be held until there’s a pope with a consciousness.

If the Pope slipped into a coma he would still be the Pope until he dies, at which point a new one would be elected, following the standard procedure.

Actually, the Richard Bourdeaux article* you refer to was in error, as was pointed out by a scholarly Catholic layman on another board. I quote his post in response to the news story, also in that thread.

  • [sub]Link to reprint of article at Pizza Parlor. The original online article is now in the LA Times archives and requires registration to access.[/sub]

Thanks for the correction.

Thanks for the information everyone :slight_smile:

[slight hi-jack]
What if the Pope ‘did’ a King George II and went on a ‘rampage’ of madness - would his eccentricities just be ignored, or would the church, having accepted his authority & infallibility, have to accept his rulings / speeches / ideals?
I guess he would just be ‘restrained’ from public appearances.
[/ slight hi-jack]

That would be George III.

From a Canon Law point of view, the question would be whether the Pope was “impeded”. Impediment could arise from physical or mental illness, or from something quite external (e.g. kidnapping, imprisonment). Obviously if the problem were dementia it could be difficult to know where to draw the line between growing forgetfulness and irritability on the one hand and incapacity to fulfil the pontifical office on the other, but the question of principal is clear enough. If the pope were sufficiently demented to be impeded - and this is probably largely a psychogeriatric question on which appropriate medical advice would be sought - then the arrangements described in Polycarp’s post would kick in.

I think that you mean to refer to King George III.


However, it is an interesting question. If the pope is only answerable to God, then, no matter how objectionable his behaviour, how can he be removed? Some past popes have certainly been highly objectionable.

If the Pope got too out of hand he could always be poisoned by his cardinals, as was tried with Leo X, (, possibly successfully with John VIII, Alexander V, ( and much more recently with John Paul I ( though take the last one with a pinch of salt

Now that’s hardly overflowing with Christian virutes now, is it? :wink:

Some fundamentalist Catholics will claim that JP I died through direct divine intervntion, because he was about to commit some sort of unPapal no-no, and God wouldn’t allow that. Take that as you will.