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I heard this question and answer given by Fr. Levis and Fr. John Trigilio on EWTN and thought it was worth sharing with you:

Fr. Levis and Fr. John Trigilio were asked the following question:

Dear Fr. Levis and Fr. John:

  • What happens if, God forbid, a priest contract Alzheimer's or gets Dementia from Parkinson's Disease?
  • If mentally unstable, can he be removed from office before doing damage?
  • What if it happens to be a Pope?
  • Is there an equivalent of a vice-Pope to take over?

Thank you for your time.

Patty

  { What happens if a priest or even the Pope contracts Alzheimer's or gets Dementia? }

Fr. Levis and Fr. John replied:

Hi Patty,

Historically, I don't know of any Papal cases. There probably were Popes that were removed from office by reason of health or political reasons. Nevertheless, it is important to note, the Pope doesn't stand alone. He is surrounded by all kinds of Cardinals and Secretaries of State and people who are in high responsible positions around the Vatican and when they notice a Pope is failing for any kind of reason, I'm sure they get together and either would ask for his resignation or vote; after all they put him in the office. They can't vote him out, but there can be a recognition that he is not fully himself at this time. It is so important to emphasize that, unlike our Presidency in the United States, if something happens to the President, the Vice-President assumes his office — there is no vice-Pope; there is no assistant Pope. The Holy Father MUST resign of his own free will for it to be a valid resignation. If he doesn't want to, then all you can do is pray that God takes him soon. The First See (Rome) is judged by no one. We had a heresy called Conciliarism in which an ecumenical council thought they could depose a Pope. No one can depose the Pope even if he's immoral or loss his marbles.

Now God forbid, if a Pope did get that way, maybe they might lock him in the closet or something like that, but you cannot remove him from office. I'm should there would be plenty of people that are loyal to the Church and would take care that no damage would be done.

On the issue of Infallibility: Even if, God forbid, a Pope was demented, infallibility would still be present. The Holy Spirit would stop him for saying something like "Jesus is really Mickey Mouse." Infallibility is a negative chrism, where the Holy Spirit would prevent him from making such a statement binding in faith and morals on the faithful. Whether or not he, himself, believes he is Mickey Mouse, is not a part of infallibility so he might think he is a different character, but it is not part of infallibility.

Infallibility only applies to the Pope's teachings and the universal Church. This is where Catholic faith comes in. There was a Cardinal from Germany that has urged John Paul II to resign but you can never compel him to resign. This Office is so unique.

On several related issues: If a priest has dementia, the bishop will take care of him fast. Some bishops have had this too and in these situations the Holy See will step in.

Fr. Levis and Fr. John Trigilio from EWTN

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