Is the Pope allowed to retire?

Or is the position for life, no matter what? I feel sorta bad for the guy, the way he’s carted around and propped up in front of windows. Surely he’d be better off if he didn’t have the stresses of being Pope along with the physical problems.

Oh, and what if he’s permanently mentally incapacitated? Can he be relieved of duties or would the Vatican pull a “Woodrow Wilson”?


IIRC The only thing that only the pope can do is make bishops.
Already aides do the day-to-day administration.

JPII views his suffering to be parallell with Jesus’ Therefore, I doubt he will resign voluntarily.


Disclaimer: caveat lector, most of the below is from memory. I am not a priest or canon lawyer. You should always consult a professional on matters of canon law. Lather, rinse, repeat…

To the OP, yes, the pope can definitely abdicate; the last time it happenned was in the 15th century during the Great Schism, but the precedent definitely exists.

NDIWP, to clarify, the pope administratively chooses the bishops but he doesn’t (usually) create them. While today bishops must be approved by the Holy See, this was not always the case, and most bishops are ordained by other bishops with Vatican approval, not by the pope directly.

The only spiritual authority peculiar to the pope that I am aware of is the authority to teach definitively (de fide) when speaking ex cathedra. Strictly speaking, the extraordinary magisterium is also present in a General Council, but since current canon law only allows Councils to be called by the pope and serve at his pleasure the point is moot.

Administratively, there are many other duties and powers reserved to the pope by canon law but not by doctrine. Given the intricacy of canon law, it would not surprise me if there are provisions for alternate authorities in the curia for many of these duties in the event of a long papal illness.

Not to hijack but it seems appropriate here…

Is there any mechanism to have a Pope removed (and not by assassination but by a “legal” means)?

For instance…what if a Pope ends up like Terri Schiavo and it is their policy to keep him alive at all costs? Does the church just effectively run without a Pope (at least a conscious Pope) for 15+ years or can they have him replaced?

You may get your for instance …

Source: Reuters

I heard a discussion about this subject on NPR the other week. They covered N9IWP’s points, especially about how he believes suffering and pain is good for the soul. I think the pope has even written a book on that subject.

A complication if a pope does decide to step down is the possibility (even likelihood) that many Catholics around the world would continue to look to JPII and not to the new “interloper”. The commentator pointed out how likely a division in the Church could occur if a pope were to abdicate.

It would be very ironic (and tragic) if JPII were to go into a long term coma or Persistive Vegetative State. But, to pull a line from Spider Robinson, “God is an iron.”*

The cynic in me says that in spite dogma and policy, the plug would be surreptitiously pulled before too long.

  • Ask and I’ll elaborate.

|Go ahead, I’m asking, elaborate.
I can’t find the cite, but I could swear I heard some smart aleck pro golfer say once, “Not even God can hit an iron” referring to a type of golf club, of course. :slight_smile: I don’t think that’s what you’re referring to.

There have been a lot of old Popes with long and lingering illnesses, most recently Pius XII in the 1950s. He nearly died in 1954, but recovered and lived another 4 years. No one pulled his plug.

Nope. Somebody who commits a felony is a felon. Someone who commits burglary is a burglar; robbery, a robber. So someone who commits irony is…

Is that a euphemism for a coma? :confused:

What is considered an “extraordinary measure” is debatable, but generally they’re thinking of something like if you’re brain dead, and the heart/lung machine is the only reason that your body is still warm. Also, Catholics (and all Christians, for that matter) have a duty to feed the hungry. So while I personally would consider a feeding tube to be extraordinary, I see where John Paul is coming from here.

FTR, I believe the joke ran something like:

Golfer 1 (on fairway in thunderstorm): Come and take shelter, you might get struck by lightning!

Golfer 2: Nah don’t worry, even God can’t hit an iron!

The Vatican now says that reports that the Pope is in a coma are “rubbish”. There will be a lot of red faces if he pulls through, not least at The Daily Telegraph, which has basically killed him off with the headline: “Historic papacy draws to close after 26 years”…

The higher cardinals would surely help let the pope “go” so to speak. It’s its own country, too, so I don’t know if any external laws apply.

zamboniracer, Polycarp covered it well. God commits irony in the same way that a glutton commits gluttony. Spider Robinson used it in a short story called ‘God is an Iron’ and later brought the story into a novel (Perhaps Mindkiller, but I could likely be wrong.)

kunilou, thanks for fighting my ignorance. I find myself getting more and more cynical lately – age I guess. It does remind me of a T-shirt message I saw years ago. “I’m not cynical, just experienced.” I may need to use it as a sig.

drhess, that was the point of my comment. It would be absolutely against the Catholic doctrine. But, if the Pope were to go into a long term coma or PVS, and be able to survive without any extraordinary measures (probably not going to happen based on his physical condition), would the higher cardinals go against official policy and hasten his death in spite of all that has been said against others who wish to do that? If their supreme mortal leader could not make active decisions, and was settled in for the long haul, could they tolerate that situation and would they take secretive action? Could they be that hypocritical? I don’t know. From what kunilou indicates, they likely wouldn’t, but it is an interesting mental exercise. The whole inner workings of the Vatican are very secretive and that does give rise to baseless speculation.

Being the Pope isn’t like being the CEO of Disney. In the Church’s view, the College of Cardinals didn’t make JPII the Pope, God did. And if a wild ride ensues, it’s part of God’s unfathomable plan.

A similar situation exists with British royals and peers. Lord Lucan accidentally killed his nanny and split for Parts Unknown (Southern Africa, it’s rumored). There exists a mechanism to strip him of his liberty and properties, but not his peerage.

Er, no. You’re confusing several separate issues.

If a British monarch wishes to retire, they can. It’s called abdication. There is nothing to stop them deciding to do so just because they like the idea of a quiet retirement, in the way that the past two Queens of the Netherlands have done. If an hereditary British peer wishes to cease to be a peer, they can. It’s called renouncing their peerage.

Moreover, a mechanism does exist by which a peer, such as Lord Lucan, could be involuntarily stripped of his peerage, although only in the form of a special Act of Parliament. Quite a few such Acts of Attainder have been passed in previous centuries. Admittedly an Act of Attainder in Lucan’s case could be considered a bit of an overreaction, even for killing a nanny (literally with a piece of lead piping), as all his properties would also be forfeited. But a more limited Act would be possible. Indeed, the present Government has considered legislating on the general issue, the more immediate case being that of convicted perjurer Lord Archer.

There was the separate issue of whether Lucan’s son, Lord Bingham, could take his seat in the Lords. That did run into difficulties when the lord chancellor rejected the son’s application on the grounds that he did not have the proper paperwork, i.e. a death certificate. But that wasn’t quite the same thing as saying that he hadn’t inherited the title. Not that it matters much now that he isn’t entitled to sit in the Lords anyway. And Bingham, understandably, isn’t keen on being known as Lord Lucan.

The real issue raised by a British comparison is that of the concept of a regency. Like most modern monarchies, the British one has arrangements for the appointment of a regent in the event of the monarch becoming incapacitated. The obvious other example that springs to mind being Monaco.

It is the reluctance of the papal monarchy to put in place similar arrangements that makes it so strikingly peculiar.

This seems like an extremely unlikely scenario. If a pope actually abdicated and retired to some convent somewhere, there would be no need for anyone to doubt his actions (aside from the tiny fraction of nutcases that believe that yesterday’s sunrise was a conspiracy). The overwhelming majority of Catholics woud be surprised, but would accept his decision.
(You might make a case for a schism if someone announced that the pope had abdicated and then retired to a cloister where no one could find him, but a simple abdication in which the ex-pope was still able to see the public would would not cause any schism. Even with a cloistered ex-pope, you need to find enough people with enough power within the church to believe a conspiracy in order to actually drive a schism.)

Why? As long as he is lying in bed with no way to change his staff, everyone gets to keep their current jobs and power. Once he dies, the (younger) cardinals go into conclave and it is anyone’s guess who the next pope will be, thus jeopardizing the postions of any senior staff member who cannot absolutely guarantee the selection of next pope. (I will also preemptively note that three of the last four popes were a surprise to the political speculators, reducing the possibility that there is any “fix” in for the next pope. When you put dozens of powerful political guys together to take a vote, you will find that “controlling” them is rather more difficult than your typically wild-eyed conspiracist can really predict.)

I know that it is fun to imagine all these grey eminences wandering about plotting murder and mayhem, but between the number of people involved who would actually morally oppose murder and the number of people whose jobs might be jeopardized by any skulduggery, such conspiracy theories are pretty silly.

From a practical standpoint, a few saints could not get canonized and a few appointments would have to hold titles similar to “temporary” or “acting,” but no serious church activity would be affected. The pope sets policy (most of which is already pretty firmly in place) and performs a number of ceremonies (which can be deferred or have a replacement delegated). There is no earth-shattering daily need for the pope to be up and active.

What about appointing cardinals? Say a pope went into a long term coma or whatever, and by the time he died, there were no cardinals under 80?