Experts draft proposed laws on status of a retired pope

Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI (Vatican Media)

A group of canonists is undertaking a project to draft detailed legislative proposals for what would happen when a pope resigns. Source: Crux.

Pope Francis’ plans to visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila and its basilica on August 28 has fuelled speculation of a possible announcement of his resignation, which he has firmly denied.

L’Aquila’s basilica is the burial place of S. Celestine V, who issued a decree declaring the right of a pope to voluntarily resign, which did in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited there in 2009, four years before he resigned.

In the more than 700 years that have passed since St Celestine established this legal precedent, the right of a pope to resign remains ensured in Church law.

The law is not very detailed, saying only that the decision must be made freely and “duly manifested,” and no one needs to formally accept a pope’s resignation for it to be valid.

That means nothing in canon law covers the legal status of the bishop of Rome who resigns from his office, such as his title, his relationship with his successor and how his funeral is to be conducted.

One canon lawyer and consultor of the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, Geraldina Boni, told Catholic News Service, “It is no longer inconceivable for a pope to resign, with this door having been ‘opened’ as Francis himself has said several times.”

However, “this situation must be regulated”, she said.

Professor Boni and other canonists launched a project in 2021 to draft legislative proposals that could be studied and discussed on an online platform with the aim of presenting the suggestions to “the supreme legislator,” the pope, for his consideration.


Stepping down: Experts draft proposed laws on status of a retired pope (By Carol Glatz, CNS via Crux

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