The Roman Catholic Church keeps its clergy on the job for a very long time. Normal retirement age for a priest is 75 years old, though some by special dispensation continue in their labors beyond that age. There is no "retirement age" for a reigning Catholic pope. Once elected to the Throne of Peter, a pope reigns until he decides to step down or until death claims him.
The Catholic Pope, sometimes referred to (by Catholics) as Sweet Christ on Earth, answers to no human individual or group. Within the Catholic Church, and everywhere else the RCC can gain authority, he is supreme. No power on earth except, perhaps, his spiritual sovereign the Prince of this Age, holds any authority over him.
The Church's Code of Canon Law anticipates no reasons for a vacancy in the papal office other than death or a resignation that is made "freely and...duly manifested," but not "accepted by anyone." (can. 332.2). In other words, no one is authorized to receive the resignation; the pope just resigns. Ecclesiastical law makes no provision at all for situuations where a pope may become mentally incompetent, lapse into a coma, or suffer some other radical disability that prevents him from executing his office and ministry. Nor is there any process to be followed if, in the judgment of many, the pope has fallen into heresy or schism. The law simply assumes that, as supreme pastor of the Church, he "is always united in communion with the other bishops and with the universal Church" (can. 333.2). Indeed, the same canon makes clear that "There is neither appeal nor recourse against a decision or decree of the Roman Pontiff" (can. 333.3). Moreover, "One who takes recourse against an act of the Roman Pontiff to an ecumenical council or to the college of bishops is to be punished with a censure" (can. 1372)." --Richard P. McBrien, Lives of the Popes, HarperSanFrancisco (1997), p. 417 [My emphasis]
Evidence that the highlighted statement accurately describes the way things are done these days may be seen in the final years of the reign of the previous Emperor of the Catholic Church, John Paul II. He was afflicted with Parkinson's disease, a degenerative affliction.
The Catholic pope literally can continue to hold the reigns of temporal power within and over the Catholic Church and her enslaved millions until he drops dead or petrifies in place, as the case may be. Popes reign until they die, or quit -- even if they no longer are able to effectively perform their kingly duties. As JP2's health worsened, some in Vatican circles apparently began to have second thoughts about papal job security:
Reportedly, some folks in the Vatican are "starting to ask an enormously delicate and potentially unsettling question: "Should Pope John Paul II resign?"--Bill Blakemore, A Delicate Question, © ABC News, Feb. 25, 2000
Perhaps some in the RCC hierarchy were recalling how things were done back in the day, when problems concerning infirm or incompetent popes could be made to 'go away.'
In the good old days the staff would lock him in a back room and run things for him," says Father Tom Reese, a U.S.-based expert on the Vatican. "In the bad old days, they would solve it with poison…Not everyone is eager for John Paul to step down. Some Catholic clergy are closing ranks behind their pope, who "still trembles, is stooped, sometimes slurs his speech, loses his balance, and during long speeches is unable to control his saliva."…But the discussion is unlikely to stop -- given the visibility of the pope's condition and the fact that there is no cure for his disease, only the means to lessen the symptoms. -- Ibid.
What are the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease?
Parkinson's disease (PD) is a degenerative central nervous system (CNS) disorder characterized by uncontrolled body movements, rigidity, tremor, and gait difficulties. . .There is no known cure for the disease; rather, the treatment goal for patients with either form of PD is to control the symptoms and provide quality of life. . .
Although onset of PD can be rapid, it is generally insidious, with symptoms gradually progressing over a number of years until they interfere with daily activities. The four major symptoms of Parkinson's disease are:
Rigidity (stiffness when neck or extremities are moved)
Resting tremor (involuntary movement of contracting muscles especially when at rest)
Bradykinesis (slowness in initiating movement
Poor posture and loss of balance
Secondary symptoms of PD include:
Emotional changes (patients become fearful or insecure)
Memory loss and slowness of thought
Difficulty swallowing or chewing
Urinary dysfunction or constipation
As PD progresses, patients develop a characteristic gait called festination, wherein patients take small, hurried steps on tiptoe. Accidental falls occur frequently as a result of festination. As the disease progresses, it becomes more difficult for Parkinson's patients to manage daily activities, and full- time caregivers are often necessary. --The Life Extension Foundation. Parkinson's Parkinson's Disease, © 1998-2000
Were I to be afflicted with these symptoms, I doubt that I would be willing to continue working. Of course, I do not have a bazillion servants, staff, etc., to see to my every need or wish.
John Paul II held on to power until the moment of his death. I can but wonder whether, in his last days, he controlled his staff or they controlled him. In the old days, it was much easier to create vacancies at Peter's Throne:
1) Pontian (230-35) abdicated after being arrested and deported). Other popes who either abdicated or resigned include Silverius in 537, John XVIII in 1009, Benedict IX in 1045 (he was reinstated two years later), Celestine V in 1294 and Gregory XII in 1415.
At least two popes were excommunicated: Vigilius (537-55) and Honorius I (625-38).
Several popes were murdered or possibly murdered: John VIII (872-82), Hadrian III (884-85), Stephen VI (896-97), Leo V (903), John X (914-28), Benedict VI (973-74), Sergius IV (1009-12), and Urban VI (1378-89). Stephen VIII (939-42) and John XIV (983-84) died after being brutalized while in prison.
Though the Holy Roman Emperors occasionally acted to depose a pope, at least two popes were thrown out of office by other than imperial action: Stephen VI (896-97) and John XII (955-64), though he was later reinstated.
At least one pope is known to have ordered the murder of his predecessor: Sergius III (904-11). --Richard P. McBrien, Op. cit., pp. 453-57
With the exception of Benedict XVI, who still reigns over Catholicdom, every pope or antipope has gone to his “long home” (Ecclesiastes 12:5).
What a shock it must have been for John Paul II and those who preceded him in the fictitious unbroken chain of apostolic succession when, upon ending their earthly existence, they stood before the Sovereign Judge who indeed does enjoy all power over the heavens and the earth; the same God who wrote in stone:
2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
5 Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me;
6 And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.
7 Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain. -- Exodus 20:2-7
How did those idolaters and blasphemers justify to the Perfect Judge their high-priestly worship of a multitude of demigods and especially the Catholic rendering of Semiramis? How did those idolaters justify the billions of prayers and offerings they urged the enthralled Catholic masses to set before idols fashioned in the imagined image of their myriad deities? How did those idolaters justify their submission of the God-breathed Sacred Scriptures to the self-serving interests of the Catholic hierarchy?
The answers? They were not able to justify any of these acts against the majesty and sovereignty of Almighty God.
Surely, Benedict XVI and all who are in submission to him are standing in the need of prayer.