Age Limit Set for Functions by Cardinals

Author: Pope Paul VI

INGRAVESCENTEM AETATEM (Age Limit Set For Functions By Cardinals)

Pope Paul VI

Motu Proprio issued on November 21, 1970 establishing an age limit for the exercise of major functions by Cardinals

The natural relationship between the increasing burden of age and the ability to perform certain major offices, such as those of diocesan bishop and parish priest, was dealt with by the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council in the Decree <Christus Dominus> (21 and 31). Implementing the wishes of the Council Fathers, we, by our Apostolic Letter <Ecclesiae Sanctae> of 6 August 1966, called on bishops and parish priests voluntarily to submit their resignation not later than their seventy-fifth birthday (11 and 20, pare. 3).

The same question of age was touched on by the general regulations of the Roman Curia, issued under the title <Regolamento Generale della Curia Romana>, which we approved and ordered to be published on 22 February 1968. It is laid down therein that major and minor officials should retire from office on the completion of their seventieth year, and higher prelates at the beginning of their seventy-fifth year of age (art. 101, pare. 1).

It seems to us now that the good of the Church demands that the increasing burden of age should be taken into consideration also for the illustrious office of the cardinalate, to which we have on several occasions given special attention. It is in fact a particularly important office which demands great prudence, both for its quite unique connection with our supreme office at the service of the whole Church and because of the high importance it has for all the Church when the Apostolic See falls vacant.

Accordingly, after long and mature consideration of the whole question, and continuing to trust for the future in the unceasing counsel and prayers of all the cardinals without distinction, we decree:


Cardinals in charge of departments of the Roman Curia (listed in art. 1 of the <Regolamento Generale>) or to the other permanent institutions of the Apostolic See and Vatican City are requested to submit their resignation voluntarily to the Pope on the completion of their seventy-fifth year of age. After due consideration of all the circumstances of each case, he will judge whether it is fitting to accept the resignation immediately.


On the completion of eighty years of age, cardinals

1. cease to be members of the departments of the Roman Curia and of the other institutions mentioned in the above article;

2. lose the right to elect the Pope and consequently also that of entering the conclave. If, however, a cardinal completes his eightieth year after the beginning of the conclave, he continues to enjoy the right of electing the Pope on that occasion.


The arrangements in articles I and II, I take effect even when the five-year term dealt with in article 2, pare. 5, of the Apostolic Constitution <Regimini Ecclesiae Universae> is not yet completed.


What is laid down in article II above applies no less to cardinals who, by exception, continue in charge of a diocese, or keep its title without the function of governing it, after their eightieth year.


Even after completing their eightieth year, cardinals continue to be member of the Sacred College in all other respects. They retain all the other rights and prerogatives connected with the office of cardinal, including the faculty of taking part in any General or Special Congregation which may be held during a vacancy of the Apostolic See before the beginning of the conclave.


If it should happen, because of unusual circumstances, that the Cardinal Camerlengo or the Cardinal Major Penitentiary should continue in office until his eightieth year, the following procedure is decreed:

1. If he completes his eightieth year before the death of a Pope and if a successor has not been appointed by then, or if he should do so between a Pope's death and the beginning of a conclave, then, during the vacancy of the Apostolic See, a regular Congregation of the Sacred College will vote to elect a successor to remain in office until the new Pope's election;

2. If he completes his eightieth year after the beginning of the conclave, his term of office is by law extended up to the election of the new Pope.


If the Dean of the Sacred College is not present at the conclave because of having completed his eightieth year, the duties of his office are performed within the conclave by the Sub-dean, or, if he too should be absent, by another of the more senior cardinals in accordance with the general order of precedence.


A system similar to that laid down in article VII is to be followed, if necessary, in the performance of the duties in the conclave assigned by law to the three cardinals who are at the head of the orders.

Interim Arrangement

Those who are now members of the Sacred College and have completed their eightieth year of age on the date of coming into force of this Apostolic Letter may continue, if they so wish, to take part, with voting rights, in the Plenary and Ordinary Congregations of departments of the Roman Curia.

We decree that what is laid down by this Apostolic Letter should come into force on 1 January 1971.

We order that all the things decreed in this letter issued " Motu proprio" be regarded as established and ratified, notwithstanding anything to the contrary, even if worthy of very special notice.

Given in Rome at Saint Peter's, on the twenty-first day of November in the year 1970, the eighth of our pontificate.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 December 1970

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