Thirteen years before his death, Blessed Paul VI had written to the dean of the College of Cardinals, urging them to accept his resignation should be become seriously ill. Source: Catholic Herald.
Commenting on the letter, Pope Francis said: “We must thank God, who alone guides and saves the Church, for having allowed Paul VI to continue until the last day of his life to be father, pastor, master, brother and friend.”
The text of Blessed Paul’s letter and Pope Francis’s brief commentary are included in a new book, The Barque of Paul, by Msgr Leonardo Sapienza, Regent of the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household. The letter and commentary also were published this week in the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano.
Blessed Paul’s letter was long rumoured to exist, and in 2017 Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Vice-Dean of the College of Cardinals, confirmed that the Pope had written such a letter. But it was not made public until Msgr Sapienza’s book came out.
The letter was dated May 2, 1965, and was addressed to the Dean of the College of Cardinals, at that time French Cardinal Eugene Tisserant. Msgr Sapienza also published a note from Blessed Paul to Italian Cardinal Amleto Cicognani, then Secretary of State, informing him of the letter and giving him permission to read it.
Blessed Paul said he was writing “aware of our responsibility before God and with a heart full of reverence and of charity, which unite us to the holy Catholic Church, and not unmindful of our evangelical mission to the world.”
“In case of infirmity, which is believed to be incurable or is of long duration and which impedes us from sufficiently exercising the functions of our apostolic ministry; or in the case of another serious and prolonged impediment,” Blessed Paul wrote, he renounced his office “both as bishop of Rome as well as head of the same holy Catholic Church.”
Church law states that a pope can resign, but it stipulates that the papal resignation must be “made freely and properly manifested” – conditions that would be difficult to ascertain if a pope was already incapacitated.
Revealed: Pope Paul VI’s secret resignation letter (Catholic Herald)