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Quitting Time

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Jul 02, 2009

About this time each year, Vatican-watchers begin speculating as to whether or not the Pope will make a series of personnel changes at the Vatican before he begins his summer vacation. Sometimes there is a spate of announcements; sometimes not. If the changes don't come soon, there will be another round of speculation at the end of the summer--when, historically, changes are more frequent.

We have no special information about the Pope's plans. But if and when he considers personnel changes, here are some relevant facts.

First the guidelines: 

  • All bishops are expected to submit their resignations when they reach their 75 birthdays. The Pope can accept those resignations or not, at his own discretion and on his own schedule. In practice, Benedict XVI has regularly allowed prelates to remain in place for a year or two, and sometimes considerably longer. 
  • At the age of 80, cardinals are no longer eligible to participate in a papal conclave. When they reach that age, with rare exceptions, cardinals relinquish whatever Vatican posts they hold-- even if those posts are not particularly demanding. 

Now the cast of characters:

  • Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, the head of the Ecclesia Dei commission, celebrates his 80th birthday on Saturday, July 4. A new motu proprio, following up on the papal document granting broader access to the traditional Latin liturgy, has reportedly been on the Pontiff's desk for months. Traditionalists are anxiously watching for new developments, wondering whether the document will be released before the Colombian cardinal leaves the scene.
  • Cardinal Renato Martino, the outspoken president of the Pontifical Commission for Justice and Peace, marked his 76th birthday last November. With the publication of the Pope's new social encyclical, the most pressing item on his "to-do list" will be finished. 
  • Cardinal Walter Kasper, the equally outspoken president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, celebrated his own 76th birthday in March. 
  • Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, turned 75 in January. Ordinarily he could be expected to remain in place for a while, but there are reports that the Pope has not been happy with the work of that congregation.
  • Cardinal Bernard Law, who was brought to Rome as archpriest of St. Mary Major basilica after resigning as Archbishop of Boston at the height of the sex-abuse scandal, will be 78 in November. 

And last but certainly not least:

  • Cardinal Angelo Sodano, who retains enormous influence within the Roman Curia three years after it was announced that he was stepping down as Secretary of State, is still holding onto his position as dean of the College of Cardinals as he closes in on his 82nd birthday. The post is mostly ceremonial, but the dean takes on a highly visible leadership role on the death of a Roman Pontiff. The last two deans-- not counting Cardinal Ratzinger-- resigned shortly after turning 80. By the way, the vice-dean of the College, Cardinal Roger Etchegaray, is 86.

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