The odd timing of a consistory to name 21 new cardinals and his decision to forego knee surgery and instead use a wheelchair prompted some Catholics to speculate that Pope Francis may announce his retirement soon. When Nicole Winfield of the Associated Press reported that Pope Francis plans to visit the tomb of Pope St. Celestine V in the Italian town of L’Aquila on August 28—the day after the consistory—rumors and predictions of a papal resignation started piling up.
Commentators began noting the parallels to the events surrounding Pope Benedict XVI’s 2013 resignation announcement, which took place during a consistory, was preceded by a visit to the tomb of St. Celestine (the previous pope to voluntarily resign), and was made due to declining health. Others pointed out that the June 5 implementation of the new curial constitution, Praedicate Evangelium, represents, at long last, the completion of a major part of Francis’s mandate, the reform of the Roman Curia. Many also noted that following this consistory, Pope Francis will have appointed nearly two-thirds of the cardinals who will participate in the next conclave, with a two-thirds majority of cardinals needed to elect a pope.
Beyond those factors, however, the parallels begin to fall apart. For one thing, Benedict’s visit to L’Aquila was in 2009 following an earthquake, it wasn’t in the weeks or months preceding his resignation. Most reports suggest that other than his injured knee and a bit of weight gain as a result of immobility, Pope Francis appears to be in good health and to have enough energy to maintain a busy schedule. I’ve seen some rumors in traditionalist corners of the internet that Pope Francis is gravely ill, but this sort of gossip has been going on since the Vatican had to shut down rumors that he was dying of a brain tumor in 2015. Francis does have some travel scheduled for September and has already promised to visit India in 2023. Additionally, the Synodal Process doesn’t end until October 2023, and one would imagine he might want to see it through.
I’ve talked to a couple of sources close to the pope (well, closer to the pope than I am, anyway) and they seem to think the rumors of an August announcement are overblown. Speaking for myself, I was in full-blown “he’s going to resign!” mode on June 5, but it’s settled into “he probably won’t” in the last day or two. May God’s will be done, but I think we’ll probably have Pope Francis leading the Church for a while longer.
For more information on this topic, I recommend Colleen Dulle’s article on the topic in America. I also recommend her two podcast episodes with America’s Vatican correspondent Gerry O’Connell, who has been friends with the pope since prior to his election.
First, their episode last week was primarily about the consistory and the new cardinals, but it also touched on the early speculation that Pope Francis might resign.
In the most recent episode they discuss the rumors in greater detail.
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Mike Lewis is the founding managing editor of Where Peter Is. He and Jeannie Gaffigan co-host Field Hospital, a U.S. Catholic podcast.