Speculation is running rampant that with John Paul's latest health episode (the tracheotomy), the cardinals will decide at the next conclave to set a limit on how old the pope can be and still be pope.
This reminds me very much of what happened when the USCCB met in Dallas that summer of 2002. (As an aside, why is it they often meet in a warm southern city for their summer meeting?) This, of course, was the height of the sexual abuse scandal after the Boston Globe had again raised issues about Cardinal Law's handling of priestly abusers. The press were demanding the bishops do something about this, and obligingly gave their suggestions -- "More openness! Greater transparency! More input from the laity! Change the reporting laws! Change the statute of limitations! Get rid of the confessional seal!" (The last one, fortunately, did not get implemented.)
The venerable Russell Shaw was at that meeting. When it was done and the vote taken, he noted in a column for Our Sunday Visitor, the headlines appeared to this effect: "Bishops vote to confront scandal." As he stood there looking at a pile of papers on a table in the press office at the hotel, a journalist from a secular paper tapped on the headline and said, "That's wrong. It should say, 'They did what we told them to do.'"
So, your Eminences all. The pressure will be placed on you by the secular media, and by some 'Catholic' media as well (at least those that lay claim to that title, though their right to that claim is highly questionable), to change the rules and to write a canon that will require the pope to resign by age 80, or some other such nonsense. I beg and plead that you ignore them. There is no crisis of leadership here. The only crisis is that being manufactured by the likes of National Catholic Reporter and company.
Eminences, we need a Holy Father, not a holy CEO. My father has an incurable cancer. However, he has not resigned his office. He is being cared for by his wife and children. Even in his incapacity and need, he is still very much my father. Fatherhood, spiritual and physical, is not resignable.
John Allen, of all people, hit the nail on the head when he wrote this in a column I first saw in the Atlanta Journal Constitution:
"Third, the theology of the papal office is ad personam, meaning that being pope is not just a role you play, it's who you are.
"It "sticks to your skin," as one theologian I know puts it. Being the successor of Peter is more akin to being a father than being the chief executive of a multinational corporation. As Pope Paul VI said, one cannot renounce paternity.
"The Catholic Church regards the pope as important principally for who he is, not what he does -- the living center of unity for a global family of faith. For him to resign because he is no longer an effective administrator would, in the eyes of some, compromise the church's teaching about the nature of the papal office."
To put a forced resignation into effect would only further the world's agenda that only those who are able-bodied can lead. It would also lessen the familial sense we have in the Church, something that needs to be strengthened against the tide of the world's diminution of the family.