Rumors that have been circulating since early May that Pope Francis may be retiring have been fueled by the announcement that he will attend a party initiated by a 13th-century pope who himself resigned.
Speculation that the 85-year-old could follow in the footsteps of his predecessor Benedict XVI and step down from his post was sparked in early May when he appeared in public in a wheelchair for the first time, after undergoing minor surgery to treat the knee. pain.
It gained momentum when it took the unusual step of hosting a consistory on August 27 to create new cardinals, some of whom will be eligible to elect the pontiff’s successor at the next conclave.
The following day, Francis will travel to L’Aquila, the city in Abruzzo devastated by an earthquake in 2009, for the Perdonanza Celestiniana festival, during which he will visit the cathedral which houses the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope who resigned in 1294 after only five months on the job. Benedict also visited the grave in 2009, leaving behind his pallium theft in what some commentators at the time called a symbolic gesture before his own resignation, which came in 2013.
“It’s very strange to have a consistory in August, there’s no reason for him to call it [event] three months in advance and then go to L’Aquila in the middle,” said Robert Mickens, the Rome-based editor of the English-language edition of La Croix, a Catholic daily.
A week after the consistory, the pontiff will meet with cardinals to brief them on his reforms to the central Vatican administration, which include imposing term limits on heads of Vatican offices and allowing women to hold such positions. posts.
“I think there will be another announcement: it might not be that he’s going to quit, but I think it’s a very good possibility,” Mickens added.
At the start of his pontificate, Francis said he would like to see the resignation of a pope become normal, and in 2015 he said he felt his pontificate would be brief, calling the decision to Benedict XVI to resign.
Benedict XVI, who chose to be called Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI instead of reverting to Joseph Ratzinger, was 85 when he resigned.
“There is a lot of symbolism at play here and I consider [the speculation] with a bit of cynicism,” said Christopher White, Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. “I don’t think it’s likely that Francis would want two retired popes in the background. Unintentionally or not, having a pope in an undefined role has been a source of occasional headaches for Francis.
White added that one of the things Francis wanted to do, if Benedict died before him, was to institute reforms on the role a retired pope should play. The pontiff would also most likely want to see through the Synod on Synodality, a two-year process that culminates in a major Vatican summit in October 2023.
“That being said, the main thing we’ve learned about this pope over the past 10 years is that he continues to surprise us, and he seems to take great pleasure in that element of surprise,” White said. .