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Keeping bishops in place?

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Oct 24, 2008

A Spanish-language Catholic blog, La Buhardilla de Jeronimo, reports a hot rumor around Rome: that the Pope will soon raise the normative retirement age for bishops from 75 to 78.  (Hat tip to Rorate Caeli for bringing this to our attention.) There are always rumors floating around the Vatican, but this one sounds more credible than most, because it would institute a formal policy that Pope Benedict (and John Paul II before him) has been following on an ad hoc basis: keeping bishops in place.

All bishops are expected to tender their resignations when they reach their 75th birthdays. The Pope is not under any obligation to accept those resignations, and often he doesn't. In the major American sees, for instance, New York's Cardinal Egan is approaching his 77th birthday, Detroit's Cardinal Maida his 79th. The rumors about their retirement are, thus far, only rumors. 

In Rome, meanwhile, Cardinal Arinze is still heading the Congregation for Divine Worship, with his 76th birthday fast approaching. There are rumors about his pending departure, too. But there are no rumors-- at least none that I've heard-- about the possibility of replacements for Cardinals Stafford (Apostolic Penitentiary) and Martino (Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace), both of whom are pushing 76. 

Pope Benedict presumably knows the value of keeping a valuable prelate in place beyond the established retirement age. As Cardinal Ratzinger, he offered his own resignation to Pope John Paul at least twice, to no avail. 

Still there would be a price to pay for raising the canonical retirement age. Some bishops need to be replaced. As things stand the Pope has an easy, painless way to replace those prelates when they hit their 75th birthdays. By raising the limit he would eliminate that option. To what purpose?

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