On Thursday Pope Francis tweaked the Church’s policies on bishops and Curial officials reaching the age of retirement, indicating that they should accept what God wants, whether accepting retirement or accepting continued service.
The changes were made through a motu proprio entitled Imparare a congedarsi, meaning “Learning to take your leave,” published Feb. 15.
Previous norms stated that the appointment of most bishops serving as curial officials and papal diplomats lapsed after the officials had reached the Vatican’s usual age of retirement of 75. Now, like diocesan bishops, they are requested to resign at 75, and will continue in their positions unless the Pope accepts their resignation. He may also request them to stay on, at his discretion.
In the motu proprio, signed Feb. 12, Pope Francis cited the generous commitment and experience of many bishops in dioceses or working in the Curia, as a reason for the update in norms.
He noted that the period of transition, whether a resignation is accepted or not, can require an interior attitude of acceptance, and that even the conclusion of an ecclesial office itself is a service and requires “a new form of availability.”
“This interior attitude is necessary both when, for reasons of age, one must prepare oneself to leave office, and when asked to continue that service for a longer period, even though the age of seventy-five has been reached,” he said.
The Pope also provided some examples of reasons he might choose to extend a Curial bishop’s service in an ecclesial office past the age of 75.
The reasons could include, he said, the importance of continuity and the adequate completion of important projects, the difficulties associated with changing leadership of a dicastery already in a period of transition, and the contribution of the person in the application of new directives or new magisterial guidelines from the Holy See.
Francis explained that the transition from active service to retirement requires adequate internal preparation, which includes stripping oneself of the desire for power and or the need to be indispensable to others.
Such preparation will help to make the transition full of peace and confidence, rather than pain and conflict, he said.
As much as possible, this new “project of life,” should include austerity, humility, intercessory prayer, and time dedicated to reading and providing simple pastoral services, he said, noting that prayer is also a powerful tool for discerning how to live out this time.
On the other hand, if a bishop’s resignation is not accepted, and he is asked to continue his service for a longer period, this requires that he abandon his personal desires and projects “with generosity,” the Pope said.
He also emphasized that such a request of the Pope should not be considered a “privilege, or a personal triumph,” a favor between friends, or even an act of gratitude for the service he has provided.
“Any possible extension can be understood only for certain reasons always linked to the ecclesial common good,” he said, and is not an “automatic act, but an act of government.”
The Pope said that the virtue of prudence is applied, along with adequate discernment, in order to make the appropriate decision in these cases.
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