Cardinal Says Pope Could Govern Even If Unable to Speak

Ex-Prefect of Church’s Supreme Court Analyzes Conditions for a Possible Resignation

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VATICAN CITY, FEB. 8, 2005 ( Even if the Pope were unable to speak, he could continue to guide the Catholic Church, says the retired prefect of the Apostolic Signature, the Church’s supreme court.

In regard to “the exercise of power, of the ministry, which is an exercise of jurisdiction, … it is not necessary to be able to speak,” Cardinal Mario Francesco Pompedda said in statements published today in the Turin newspaper La Stampa.

“It is sufficient that [the Pope] expresses his will and that he does so in a clear manner. He can express his will perfectly in writing, or he can also express it in obvious and significant gestures,” added the cardinal.

“The power of government is based on an act of will; there is no formula that must be pronounced in the exercise of jurisdiction, as occurs in the sacraments,” he noted.

“No one would ever be able to cast doubt on a decision of the Pope which, even if it is not manifested with speech, is expressed in writing, or with gestures, with expressions that express clearly his will,” Cardinal Pompedda, 75, continued.

The cardinal outlined how a pope might proffer his resignation. He said such a declaration “must be public” and added: “He could do so before two witnesses, before the College of Cardinals, before a synod, or by appearing at the window of his apartment, saying publicly, ‘I resign.’ There are no codified formulas.”

The Code of Canon Law does not include dispositions in case of a pope’s “incapacity due to illness,” the cardinal noted.

Cardinal Pompedda reminded his listeners that the apostolic constitution “Universi Dominici Gregis,” which regulates matters concerning a pope’s eventual death, includes the expression “the Roman See, when for any reason it becomes vacant.”

“By analogy, one could apply to a pope the norms that the Code provides for a vacant episcopal see,” said the cardinal. “Also foreseen is the case of impediment. That is, when the bishop is no longer able to communicate with his own community, because of exile [or] prison.

"It is true that the canonical doctrine states that the see would be vacant in the case of heresy. … But in regard to all else, I think what is applicable is what judgment regulates human acts. And the act of will, namely a resignation or capacity to govern or not govern, is a human act.”

He added: “There is no human act when on the part of the intellect there is a lack of awareness or knowledge of what one is doing, or when on the part of the will there is no freedom.”

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