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Will the Secular Mass Media & Liberal Churchmen Try to Remove Benedict From Office?


By Cathy Caridi | April 2007
Cathy Caridi is a licensed canon lawyer who practices law and teaches in the Washington, D.C., area. Her regular column on canonical issues is currently being syndicated by Real Presence Communications.

April 16, 2007, is Pope Benedict XVI’s 80th birthday. One needn’t be a prophet to predict that many in the secular mass media, and many liberal churchmen, will use the occasion to raise the question of whether it might be best for the Church if such an elderly man were to resign, paving the way for a younger, more energetic (and, they hope, more forward-thinking) man to take the reins.

It’s easy to predict because in Pope John Paul II’s declining years the press inundated the public with similar “concerns.” The Pope was too old, too frail, too physically incapacitated to handle the rigorous demands of running the universal Church, they said, and he should step down. Furthermore, pundits repeatedly suggested that a more general procedural overhaul of the papacy might be in order, requiring a pope to resign at age 75 like other bishops, rather than rule until his death.

When John Paul II began to lose his faculty of speech in early 2005, the drumbeat grew louder, as journalists raised the specter of a Pope who might become completely unable to communicate and thus incapable of giving orders and making decisions to guide the Church on a daily basis. Under such circumstances, the media warned, the operations of the Church might grind to a standstill. The tactical question shifted from “should the pope resign?” to “can the pope be removed from office?” USA Today (May 11, 2003) quoted Notre Dame’s Rev. Richard McBrien as saying, “You still have to raise the question, not cynically: Would any major global corporation think him fit to be its CEO?”

Given the media’s track record on this issue, why should we expect them to address Benedict’s advancing age any differently? If his voice cracks or he otherwise appears tired at a papal audience, they will declare solemnly that the Pope is very old; they will point out that other bishops are obliged to resign at age 75, and it would only be fair if the Pope agreed to a similar requirement; they will remind us that Benedict once had a fainting spell in his apartment, some years before being elected Pope, and the same thing might happen to him again in the future. John Paul II’s death spared the Church the problem of dealing with a Pope who was so physically debilitated that he was unable to rule; nevertheless, the issue might very well come up again.

But both the secular press and liberal churchmen would do well to keep in mind that the Catholic Church is governed by her own body of law, the Code of Canon Law, and this very Code constitutes the procedural manual to be followed should the pope wish to resign, or become physically incapable of ruling the Church and of resigning from office. The question of what might happen to the Church would not be decided by either public opinion polls or the musings of talking heads on the nightly news. The Church has her own legal system, already in place! And if one wonders what would, or could, transpire if the pope became too feeble to rule, the answer can be found in the Code, Fr. McBrien’s daydreams (which allegedly are non-cynical, remember!) notwithstanding.

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