NEW YORK (AP) -- Roman Catholicism needs the equivalent of the 25th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, specifying what to do if the pope is ever incapable of governing, an expert in church law said.
The lack of rules is "a rather serious vacuum" in church law, according to the Rev. James H. Provost of Catholic University, who wrote an article for the current America magazine shortly before his death Aug. 26.
By definition, a pope suffering a severe stroke or mental illness cannot simply step down, because canon law specifies a person must be of sound mind to resign a church office.
Some think the Holy Spirit wouldn't allow such a crisis, Provost wrote, but the mental illness of Pope Urban VI (1378-89) forced cardinals to elect a second pope, causing the disastrous Western Schism. He said new law is needed "to avoid cries of foul play or even another schism."
A bishop designates an aide who takes over if he is impeded.
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