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Jorge Miras, Full Professor of Administrative Law canonical

Legislating on the role of popes emeritus?

Wed, 15 Jan 2020 16:25:00 +0000 Posted in ABC

Following certain issues that have recently circulated in public opinion, which I will not discuss now because I assume readers are informed and I have nothing to contribute, I am asked whether it would not be necessary for the law of the Catholic Church to regulate the figure of popes emeritus.

For those who do not wish to read on, I would say in advance that my answer, in summary, would be: no.

In any legal system, legislation should be soberly reserved for social phenomena of certain relevance, extent and frequency. One does not legislate to deal with isolated or infrequently recurring cases. If, for example - and I am not referring to any current issue - there were to be some behaviour that was disturbing to the social good or perhaps criminal on the part of one or a few individuals, the authority could always correct, warn or even order, by means of individual administrative acts (precepts). It could even, if the case so requires, promote a punitive or penal action.

But there has been only one case of an emeritus pope in the last almost 600 years, and I would not think it would be goal to say that status has produced serious dysfunctions. I do not think it would be right to identify here a matter for urgent legislation.

On the other hand, it is not that the law is silent on the matter, even if not directly. It provides that the pope can resign, provided he does so freely, without anyone having to accept the Withdrawal (canon 322), that the ecclesiastical official document is lost, among other reasons, by Withdrawal (canon 184 § 1), that the degree scroll of emeritus can be granted to one who has resigned (canon 185), that actions such as promote disobedience to the Apostolic See, or pretending to exercise the functions of official document which one has resigned (canons 1373, 1381), would be criminal. The status of resigned bishops is also regulated in a sober manner, which can indirectly guide the mind of the legislator (canon 402), etc.

In short, I believe that the law - not only legislation - has sufficient elements to deal with these situations as far as it is concerned. The rest is prudential and therefore can be adapted flexibly to the circumstances of each case.