Cong. for Bishops, Norms on Bishops Leaving Office, 31 October 1988.


The increasing number of diocesan, coadjutor and auxiliary bishops who have resigned their office in accordance with the requirement of CIC, c. 401 has already constituted a development of great moment in the life of the Church.

Even as retired bishops they continue to be members of the College of Bishops “by virtue of their sacramental consecration and hierarchical communion with the head of the College and its members” (c. 336). For this reason they have the right “to be present at an Ecumenical Council with a deliberative vote” (c. 339) and to exercise collegial power within the prescribed limits (c. 337, §2).

Since, however, the aforementioned developments take on a singular and extraordinary significance in the life of the Universal Church, it seemed appropriate to think out more suitable ways in which retired bishops might be able to feel themselves to be still useful to the service of the Church. Indeed, for a possible remedy for their isolation to be offered it is not sufficient for them to enjoy the right to retain a residence in their former diocese nor for them to have the right to a sufficient and worthy provision for their upkeep (c. 402).

Moreover, to the group of retired bishops must be added bishops who have ceased from office in the Roman Curia, in Pontifical Legations or in other tasks, on the completion of their mandate, or by recall or resignation (c. 367).

In light of these circumstance, the Congregation for Bishops, acting on advice given by the Secretariate of State, in April 1989, arranged a meeting between

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dicasteries, so that it could give a suitable and long-awaited solution to the question.

The results of this fruitful communication of ideas and experiences, in the form of suggestions made by those who participated in the meeting, were submitted to the august consideration of the Roman Pontiff. At the audience held on October 29, 1988, he kindly approved these and ordered the Congregation for Bishops to inform the dicasteries of the Roman Curia and all the episcopal conferences of them so that they could be put into effect.

Proposal Approved by the Roman Pontiff at an Audience Granted on October 29,1988:

1. Retired bishops are to be consulted on questions of a general nature just as other bishops, so that their proven pastoral experience may be utilized. Likewise, even documents of the Holy See, and above all those of the Holy Father are to be sent in advance to retired bishops, as is already done for bishops in office, so that they may continue to be informed about questions of greater moment in the Church.

2. A retired bishop who has particular expertise in some matter can be included as a coopted member among the members of the various dicasteries of the Roman Curia. In a similar way retired bishops can be considered when the nomination of consultors to the Roman Curia arises.

3. In choosing members who must take part in the Synod of Bishops, episcopal conferences can turn their attention also to someone from the number of retired bishops who may be endowed with a particular competence of experience.

4. Should the statutes of episcopal conferences not envisage the presence of retired bishops with a consultative vote, care must be taken to ensure that they participate in a meeting of some kind, and in some study committee, when themes are being examined on which the retired bishops are particularly competent. Moreover, steps are to be taken so that they, too, receive the principal documents of the conference.

5. Every diocese is to take care to send to its retired bishop the diocesan newsletter and other documents of this kind, so that he may be kept informed, as far as possible, of the various activities of the diocesan community. Zealous and careful provision is to be made for his financial well-being, and within the limitations of diocesan resources, to be generously afforded.

6. The Universal Church must accept responsibility for due concern towards its retired bishops, so that a sense of isolation may weigh less heavily on them, and they may not feel themselves to be cut off.

Given at Rome, from the Offices of the Congregation for Bishops, October31, 1988.




Cong. for Bishops, 31 October 1988, Norms (unofficial translation), Comm 20 (1988): 167-168; CLSGBI Newsletter 79 (September 1989): 17-19.