The appreciation shown to bishops who choose to offer their resignation before the age of 75 because of illness "or other serious reasons" is the most important point in a Vatican document which went into effect on Wednesday.

Made public and going into effect Nov. 5, the 'rescriptum ex audientia' follows a Nov. 3 papal audience held with Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Vatican Secretary of State.

The papal rescript couched its decisions in quotes from Christus Dominus – Vatican II's 1965 decree on the pastoral office of bishops in the Church –  and Ecclesiae Sanctae, Bl. Paul VI's motu proprio of the following years implementing the decree, which encouraged bishops to spontaneously submit resignation at the age of 75.

The rescript also makes reference to Ingravescentem aetatem, Bl. Paul VI's 1970 motu proprio on the cardinals of the Roman Curia, confirming 75 as an age limit for heads of dicasteries and 80 for members; to the canon law codes of both the Latin and Eastern Churches; and to Pastor bonus, St. John Paul II's 1988 apostolic constitution on the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis' rescript confirms that bishops, including coadjutors and auxiliaries, are invited to present their resignation at the age of 75; and that resignation is effective only when "it is accepted by the legitimate Authorities," i.e. the Pope.

The rescript also notes that once a resignation has been accepted, "the interested parties cease to hold any other office at national level conferred for a period determined in concomitance with the aforementioned pastoral office."

The real news of the papal rescript comes in article four, which says, in part: "The gesture of a Bishop who, by motives of love or the wish to offer a better service to the community, considers it necessary to resign from the role of Pastor before reaching the age of seventy-five on account of illness or other serious reasons, is to be deemed worthy of ecclesial appreciation."

The article also notes that "in such cases, the faithful are requested to demonstrate solidarity and understanding for their former Pastor, providing punctual assistance consistent with the principles of charity and justice."

A Vatican source told CNA that "this norm is intended to encourage those bishops (to resign) who are living in difficult situations yet do not want to resign because they do not want leave their flock, or because of opportunism."

Article five, in turn, reiterates that "in some particular circumstances, the competent Authorities may deem it necessary to request that a Bishop present his resignation from pastoral office, after informing him of the cause for this request, and listening closely to his reasons, in fraternal dialogue."

This article acknowledges, perhaps, that when bishops "who are living in difficult situations" do not submit resignations before turning 75, the Pope might make a point of asking them to do so.

The final two articles concern cardinals who head a dicastery and non-cardinals who are presidents, secretaries, and bishops who hold other offices appointed by the Pope; both groups are required to submit their resignation at the age of 75.

When the latter are member of one dicastery by virtue of their being head of another, they cease in their membership of those other dicasteries when they cease in their leadership position. And those who serve as members of dicasteries cease in their membership upon reaching the age of 80.

The source commented that "it is yet to be seen now how many members of Vatican dicasteries will cease their membership now that this rescript has come into effect."

On the other hand, the source also noticed that "the rescript may also be an alert to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who had not ceased his functions as camerlengo, though he had resigned from the post of Secretary of State, having reached the age limit."

Cardinal Bertone, 79, resigned as Vatican Secretary of State one year ago. He remains camerlengo of the Apostolic Chamber, an office that assists with administrative services and preparations for a conclave when the Apostolic See is vacant.

In fact, Cardinal Bertone will celebrate his 80th birthday on Dec. 2, and so will automatically cease any charge in the Roman Curia – including that of camerlengo.

"However, the rescript could be a nudge to the cardinal to leave the post in advance of that date," the source concluded.

The camerlengo is among the officials appointed by the Pope, but the norm includes, in addition, such roles as the archpriests of the Roman basilicas.

The heads of offices appointed by the Pope were included in the norms by the specific wish of Pope Francis, as was confirmed by Cardinal Parolin, who spoke informally at the conclusion of the inauguration of the Pontifical Institute for Christian Archaeology's academic year.