The Origin of the Rumors of Pope Francis's Resignation

September 28, 2021
University of Bologna

An article by Vaticanist Sandro Magister explains the origin of the rumor of the pope's resignation. This is an article by a canonist that appeared in an Italian specialist journal. It hinted at new canonical norms concerning both the resignation of a pope and his total incapacity.

The author of the article, Geraldina Boni, a full professor of canon and ecclesiastical law at the University of Bologna, is also an advisor to the Pontifical Council for legislative texts. With that information, going from there to thinking that the Vatican, at the request of the pope, was preparing the norms of a legal framework for his imminent resignation is but a short step.

But according to information from Settimo Cielo, nothing is happening in the Vatican and no one, let alone the pope, is moving in such a direction.

The initiative was initiated by an international network of canon law scholars from the University of Bologna. They have created a virtual platform, accessible to all, where they are developing new norms on two points: the resignation and the total incapacity of a pope.

When these scholars feel they have adequately developed the plan, they will offer it to the “supreme legislator,” that is, to Pope Francis, who will decide what to do with it.

Professor Boni explained how this platform works in an article written for Settimo Cielo. Here is a brief summary. 

The possibility of a completely incapacitated pope is mentioned in the Code of Canon Law but not regulated. In addition, no juridical solution has been considered in the event of total, permanent, and irreversible impediment. These are the two gaps that should be filled.

Since 2020, a small group of canonists from different countries have established two normative schemas, on these identified points. This team worked together through online meetings and exchanged schemas.

“The two draft legislative proposals, one on the entirely impeded Roman see and the other on the canonical situation of the bishop of Rome who has resigned from office, were, once this preparatory work was completed, placed on a website to bring them to the attention of canonists all over the world.”

In the plan regarding the impeded Rome see, the most important innovation concerns the introduction of the total and irremediable incapacity of the pope “as the third cause of termination of the Petrine office, which would be added to death and resignation.”

“The situation, ascertained and declared through carefully regulated procedures (with the intervention of a medical consultation and ratification by a qualified majority of the college of cardinals), would be the legal equivalent of a vacant see: with the resulting convocation of the conclave for the election of the new successor of Peter.”

The major difficulty would be to coordinate this solution with a fundamental principle of law: prima sedes a nemine judicatur, “the first see is not judged by anyone,” inseparably connected to the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.

The project proposes “a few significant rules on the act of resignation,  (for example on the formalities or the effective date), …provisions on title and mode of address, residence, means of support, relations with the Roman pontiff, personal condition, way of life, ecclesial and public responsibilities, funeral and burial of the bishop of Rome who has resigned.” It is interesting to note that the proposed title is: “Bishop Emeritus of Rome.”

At the end of this joint work, the projects will be presented to the supreme legislator, so that he can use them if he sees fit. This is the address of the platform: