Pope orders retired prelates to live simply, shun power

February 16, 2018 - 6:35 AM
Pope Francis leaves at the end of the Ash Wednesday mass at Santa Sabina Basilica in Rome. (Reuters)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis, in a decision affecting Vatican officials and bishops around the world, on Thursday ordered them to lead simple lives and renounce any desire for power after they retire from senior positions.

A number of Vatican officials and bishops have come under fire in recent years for holding on to luxuries, such as large apartments and in some cases even police escorts, after they leave office.

Francis himself gave up the spacious papal apartments in favor of a simple suite in a Vatican guest house. Now a new Church law says prelates should “strip themselves of desires of power and of the pretence of being indispensable.”

Francis made his comments in a new law known as a Motu Proprio, Latin for “by his own initiative.” Its Italian title can be roughly translated as “Learning to Resign.”

While the law makes changes in the bureaucratic aspects of the official retirement age, which remains 75 but allows some Vatican official to stay on at the pope’s discretion, much of it was clearly aimed at avoiding the repeat of recent scandals.

One involved an apartment used by Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, a former secretary of state who was removed in 2013.

Bertone’s large retirement apartment, which has a huge terrace and breathtaking view of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica, become a symbol of the difficulty the frugal-minded pope has faced in his efforts to rein in the perks some Church leaders cling to after they retire.

Even after he retired, Bertone was seen using escorts of Vatican and Italian police to move around Rome.

Last October, a Vatican court convicted the former president of a Vatican-owned hospital of abuse of office for diverting nearly half a million dollars of funds to renovate Bertone’s apartment.

Francis said those who leave high office should embrace “a new life project, marked as much as possible by austerity, humility, prayer, time dedicated to reading and willingness to provide simple pastoral services.”

This was an appeal to retired bishops and Vatican officials to live a simple life in religious communities or serve parishes by saying Mass, performing other sacraments and filling in for priests who are ill.

“The pope is saying people should pray before God when it is time to retire,” Vatican spokesman Greg Burke told Reuters television in an interview.

“Basically, he is saying to bishops and cardinals ‘be humble, learn a way to serve humbly.’ It is as if he were saying ‘be a parish priest again, go to your confessions, go help with the fish fry,’ that kind of thing,” Burke said.

Francis said high-ranking prelates should prepare spiritually for the coming change of lifestyle “otherwise it can be painful and conflictual.”

Some retired Vatican officials have been known to want to stay close to the center of power, to try to influence Church decisions via younger staff allied with them.

A year after his election in 2013, Francis removed a German bishop because he had spent 31 million euros (£25.84 million) of Church funds on an extravagant residence while the pope was preaching austerity.