On, 11th May 2018 the Apostolic Nuncio to Ghana, His Excellency Most Rev. Jean Marie Speich, gave a press conference at which he issued the following statement: “His Holiness Pope Francis has accepted the resignation of His Grace Archbishop Matthias Nketsiah of Cape Coast and has appointed His Grace Most Rev. Charles Palmer Buckle as the new Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Cape Coast”.

This statement has given rise to a lot of misunderstanding, confusion and anxiety among many Catholics and the media houses. At the centre of all this is the use of the word “resignation”. Why has Archbishop Nketsiah resigned? Is he no longer happy being an archbishop? Has he done something wrong in the Church or in the Archdiocese which is causing him to resign? Is he running away from his work as a shepherd? Will he cease to be an archbishop? The answer to each of these questions is an emphatic No. The word “resign” in this context should not be taken in the normal secular sense in which one can resign from one’s work or job for any of the above reasons. In the context of the Catholic Church, when a bishop resigns, he does so on the grounds that he has attained the age stipulated by church law for bishops to retire (i.e. 75) or ill health. Moreover, unlike the secular usage, when a bishop resigns, he does not cease to be a bishop. He is still a bishop, but he is no longer in charge of the diocese.

We need to realize that there can only be one bishop at a time in every diocese. Even if there are auxiliary (assistant) bishops, they assist the principal bishop who is referred to as “the bishop of the diocese”. We should also realize that while a bishop is still in charge of a diocese, another bishop cannot be appointed to be in charge of the same diocese. The incumbent bishop has to step down from his position as the one in charge of the diocese before another one can be appointed. This means that he has to “resign” from the position of being in charge of the diocese. There cannot be two or more (principal) bishops in one diocese. In this connection, church law demands that a diocesan bishop, on attaining the age of 75, must write to the Pope informing him that he has attained the stipulated or mandatory age of 75 and is prepared to stop being in charge of the diocese as soon as the Pope appoints another bishop to be in charge of the diocese.

When the Pope replies to the bishop’s “resignation” letter, he will give him permission to stop being in charge of the particular diocese. This is what is referred to as “resignation”. He will thus become a bishop emeritus (retired bishop). The Pope may also indicate in the same letter the person he has appointed to continue with the administration of the diocese. The outgoing bishop is still a bishop (or archbishop) and, with the permission of the new bishop, he can carry out certain functions in the diocese, e.g. administering the Sacrament of Confirmation, Holy Orders, etc. However, he is no longer in charge of that diocese. Thus, if Archbishop Nketsiah has “resigned”, it simply means that he has reached the age mandated by church law for a bishop to step down and hand over the administration of the diocese to another person, in this case to Archbishop Charles Palmer Buckle.

By Bishop Joseph Osei Bonsu.

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