Pope Francis retirement rumours swirl

Pope retirement rumours

Rumours Pope Francis may be considering retirement have been given added fuel over his plans to attend a feast initiated by a 13th-century pope who himself resigned.

Francis announced he would visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August. He will attend a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs who resigned before Pope Benedict XVI stepped down in 2013.

Italian and Catholic media have been rife with unsourced speculation that the 85-year-old Francis might be planning to follow in Benedict’s footsteps. His increased mobility problems have forced him to use a wheelchair for the last month, which has driven conjecture about his future.

Francis was elected pope in 2013 on a mandate to reform the Roman Curia. Now that the nine-year project has been rolled out and at least partially implemented, Francis’ main task as pope has in some ways been accomplished.

All of which made Saturday’s otherwise routine announcement of a pastoral visit to L’Aquila carry more speculative weight than it might otherwise have.

The basilica in L’Aquila hosts the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope. He resigned after five months in 1294, overwhelmed by the job. In 2009, Benedict visited L’Aquila which had been devastated by a recent earthquake. He prayed at Celestine’s tomb, leaving his pallium stole on it.

No one at the time appreciated the significance of the gesture. But four years later, the 85-year-old Benedict would follow in Celestine’s footsteps and resign, saying he no longer had the strength of body and mind to carry on the rigours of the papacy.

Francis has praised Benedict’s decision to retire as “opening the door” for future popes to do the same. He had initially predicted a short papacy for himself of two to five years.

Nine years later, Francis has shown no signs he wants to step down, and he has significant projects still on the horizon.

For example, he has scheduled a major meeting of the world’s bishops in 2023 to debate the increasing decentralisation of the Catholic Church and the continued implementation of his reforms.

But Francis has been hobbled by the strained ligaments in his right knee, making walking painful and difficult. He has rejected surgery reportedly because of his reaction to anaesthesia during an operation last July.

However one of his closest advisers and friends, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, said talk of a papal resignation or the end of Francis’ pontificate was unfounded.

“I think these are optical illusions, cerebral illusions,” Maradiaga told Religion Digital, a Spanish-language Catholic site.

Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, noted that most Vatican watchers expect Francis will eventually resign, but not before Benedict dies. The 95-year-old retired pope is physically frail but still alert and receives occasional visitors in his home in the Vatican gardens.

“He’s not going to have two former popes floating around,” Bellitto said in an email, seemingly quashing Pope Francis retirement rumours.


AP News




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