History of Episcopal Appointments and Retirements


I’m trying to learn more about the process Bishops were appointed in the past, and when and why it became the norm for Bishops to retire at a certain age.

All I can find are very old articles describing the way it was before, and newer articles describing it the way it is now, but nothing describing the transition. Can anyone point me in the right direction?



The appointment of bishops has been rather consistent since the time of St. Gregory VII and the investiture conflicts. Since that time, it is almost always the Pope who appoints them on his own initiative. There are some places where a certain man is chosen by a local chapter of canons and then the Pope can appoint that man. That was more common in the past. In the Eastern Churches, the bishops are elected and then approved by the Pope. On this topic, I think the old Catholic encyclopedia would tell you just about all there is to know and, for the most part, would be reflective of current practice.

Regarding resignation at a certain age–that was first stated in the document Ecclesiae Sanctae of Paul VI. Vatican II, in the decree *Christus Dominus *(#21), mentioned that bishops should be willing to resign due to advanced age but didn’t put a number on it. *Ecclesiae Sanctae *said 75 was the age when bishops should tender their resignation (Part I, #11). Certainly, bishops could resign before Vatican II. But, this requested (practically mandatory) resignation was a new idea. The Pope can accept the resignation whenever he wants, even years after the bishop turns 75.

As far as readings: commentaries on *Christus Dominus *might help, as well as anything you can find on Ecclesiae Sanctae. The current Code of Canon Law covers these topics in canons 377 (appointment of bishops) and 401 (resignation due to age).

CD: vatican.va/archive/hist_councils/ii_vatican_council/documents/vat-ii_decree_19651028_christus-dominus_en.html
ES: vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/motu_proprio/documents/hf_p-vi_motu-proprio_19660806_ecclesiae-sanctae_en.html

Hopefully, those more knowledgeable on this topic will chime in.



Thanks for the response.

What was the rationale for Paul VI requiring resignations? I did my baccaleureate thesis on Conclaves, and I read that it’s speculated that Paul VI barred over-80 Cardinals from voting as a way to prevent the older appointments from rolling back the changes he made, although ostensibly it was done to spare the most elderly Cardinals from a strenuous election. Is it the same case with regard to Bishops? Did Paul VI require resignations as a way to accelerate the changes he wanted to make?


In territories outside that Church’s jurisdiction*



First, this resignation at 75 is not, strictly speaking, required. Bishops are “requested” to offer their resignation at that age.

I can’t say I know what he might have been thinking or if there are any such speculations in regard to the 75 year age limit. I don’t really agree with the 80 year age limit on voting in a conclave but…for bishops, the responsibilities are much greater and the stress is (I would think) exponentially higher. As such, I understand and accept the rationale offered in Christus Dominus 21, which was obviously approved by the vast majority of bishops and not just conceived by the Pope. Why 75 and not some other age? I suppose it was thought that anybody that old would be happy to retire. In the past, bishops tended to remain in office until death. This request gives them “an out” so that they can retire without appearing to abandon their flock. In those days, that age was beyond the normal life expectancy. It might have been thought that there would not be many bishops who made it to 75 and, if they did, they would usually not be in very good shape.

Regarding the Eastern Churches–I should have not even mentioned it. There are lots of variables in play and without a long post, those variables could not be explained with precision and accuracy.



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