From a recent statement from His Excellency Bishop Richard Williamson [Authority Crippled], it appears that he wishes to retire from his canonically authorized and appointed role of "Roman Catholic Bishop, Joint Coadjutor of the Diocese of Rome." But for Catholic bishops, there is no "retirement" per se. Classically, and eternally in the Catholic Church, a Bishop is "married" to his flock (diocese, or religious order or congregation). I suppose that by extension of the same principle a Pope is similarly "married" to the whole Church. One does not retire from a marriage, though one can resign, but that is a different thing. Retirement is a departure from an office on account of attaining arbitrary age limits, but resignation is a departure from an office for some grave reason, such that it is truly for the good of the Church that the person be recognized as having no further connection to a given office.
Retirement only means that, healthy or not, ready or not, your job has just disappeared, but that hopefully you may be entitled to some sort of pension, meaning that money will be paid out to you so long as you live (hopefully not long, from the standpoint of those paying) but that nothing further is required or expected in return from you. It is a complete Novus Ordo innovation to "retire" the local functionaries which it confusingly still calls "bishops" ("confusingly," in that very few of them are even validly consecrated as bishops at all), as if their job is done, over. But then of course these Novus Ordo functionaries are not "married" to any "dioceses" or "religious orders" or "flocks" of any kind, but merely hired to work here or there, at this or that. They clock in at the morning, put in eight hours of time, then clock out, off-duty until the next day. Don't bother asking any of them to give you the Last Rites at 3:00 in the morning, even were any of them validly capable of it; their shift for the day hasn't started yet. You can call them back after 8:00 and get an appointment, hopefully within the week (if you are still alive)! A more obvious declaration to the effect that they are all mere hirelings (and not shepherds of any kind, true or false) could not be made.
But Catholic bishops cannot retire. They are not hirelings but shepherds (hopefully true, but frightfully tragic when false) who remain permanently attached to their flock (apart from when papally assigned to another flock), so there is for them no retirement, to be followed by "golden years" filled with travel or golf or shuffleboard. Even as his health declines (and a coadjutor having to fulfill more and more of his tasks), he nevertheless remains "THE Bishop" until he dies. No matter how many tasks he delegates to his coadjutor, he remains the one doing the delegation, in law, and so long as he is conscious, in fact.
Resignation occurs for a grave reason. When a person resigns from an ecclesial office that by its nature is meant to be permanent (ordinarily lasting until the man's own death) it is due to their own (admitted, in the case of those who actually do resign or "step down") shortcomings and inadequacy for the office. Pope Celestine V resigned his See (the whole Church, his See being that of St. Peter) for exactly this sort of reason.
Canon Law also recognizes other manners of resignation from office that take place automatically, again for grave reasons that constitute a fundamental reason why the man must not continue in any office of Catholic Bishop. These would be such reasons as conflict of interest (marriage, joining a secular army, or transfer to another office), or desertion (failure to take office within some designated period of time, abandonment of office, abandonment of clerical habit, or defection from the Faith). For these actions, no letter of resignation is necessary, of course. Notice however that "attainment of some arbitrary retirement age" is not among them. That is no accidental oversight. That is the difference between being a shepherd and being a hireling.
A hireling retires when he has put in enough years of services to have earned for himself a financial nest egg sufficient to sustain himself during his "golden years." A shepherd "owns" his flock, at least in a manner of speaking, until he dies, unless it needs to be taken away from him for good reason.
When a brand new and effectively secular Vatican organization appropriated the Church's physical resources with its new redefinition of itself in Lumen Gentium, all bishops were effectively given a new and parallel office to that which they possessed up to that point. Now, they were both "Bishop" of whatever flock they already had been the bishop of, and also the local "Vatican functionary" in the area. In their first office, they are shepherd, but in the second, they are hireling.
When Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre retired in 1968, it can only be from the second office from which he retired, namely that of some local "Vatican functionary." But there is in that no basis to construe any resignation from his office of Catholic Bishop. As such, he had every bit as much authority to set up and canonically erect any sort of religious order or congregation as he had prior to his retirement, at least in the Catholic Church. Granted, his ability to do that within the role of "Vatican functionary" ceased with his retirement, but that has relevance only to the ability of any order or congregation he founds to be recognized by the new and parallel Vatican organization. But even any order or congregation founded by a Catholic Bishop, though retired from all service as a "Vatican functionary," remains an order or congregation which Catholics are all and everywhere morally bound to recognize as being legally and canonically erected, in accordance with ALL canonical norms.
Ergo, the approval of Bishop Francois Charrière, though commendable on his part and providentially useful for other, though lesser, reasons, was altogether unnecessary towards adding anything to the ecclesiastically official status of Archbishop Lefebvre's founding of the SSPX. Archbishop Lefebvre, as Roman Catholic Bishop (NOT resigned!) had all the authority to grant that approval himself, and (of course) did so. The same of course goes for all "retired" but not resigned Roman Catholic bishops, including most notably those who alone thus far have provided for the future of the Church, not only Archbishop Lefebvre himself, but also Archbishop Thục and Bishops de Castro-Meyer and Mendez. The fullness of what these bishops had was truly passed on to their succession, such that they too have the same authority to set up any sort of religious order or congregation or community of any sort. The goal of the consecrations was, after all, not merely to provide a mere material succession (several historically schismatic bodies already possessed this), but a lawful, and therefore formally apostolic, succession.
Ergo, Bishop Williamson truly does possess in himself sufficient authority to found a religious society of any sort, should he so choose. And for that matter, there is no good reason he could not rightly lay claim to the original founding of the SSPX by Archbishop Lefebvre, as he appears to have been most faithful to it. I have no doubt that at least hundreds of Society priests, if gathered together in a Consistory, would gladly elect Bishop Williamson to lead the (true and original) SSPX onward into the future.
I for one am at a complete loss to understand why he would not wish to continue in the prerogatives which Archbishop Lefebvre openly and explicitly and intentionally imparted to him in 1988. Can he really believe that he has no further responsibility to the Church? If it's just that he's getting old and tired and slowing down, well that's what successors are for. Who will be there to continue tending his flock when he himself is gone, whether through actual and literal death, or the practical equivalent to death which such a complete abdication would amount to? Does he really want to abandon his Apostolic office and ministry to spend his declining years doing nothing but collecting Social Security or selling shoes? I don't see that.
One more thing: The SSPX "theologians," however well-trained in diplomacy, could use a few lessons in Basic Catholic Theology 101. Their saying "They [the Vatican heretics] are mentally sick, but they have the authority" is itself mentally sick. Why ascribe authority to a place where authority is intrinsically impossible? How else can the lunatics take over the asylum, except through the sheer lunacy of those willing to ascribe authority to lunatics? That is not authority but only power, and power abused most gravely. And to allow such patent lunatics to curtail your authority (over which they have no jurisdiction, by virtue of their own explicit decree) is only your own authority being most gravely misdirected and mislead.
The necessity of the Church to continue as an organized body (presently several cooperating organized bodies, all belonging to and subject to the one) is so basic and important that to refuse it cannot escape culpability. Saying that "the Vatican won't let me," though most probably quite true, has got to be the lamest excuse for not doing one's job, and should be rightly seen so by all Catholics. Your Excellency, as you never received the office of a "Vatican functionary" there is nothing for you to retire from. However, you did receive the office of Roman Catholic Bishop, and from that office there is no retirement.
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