A pope in a wheelchair, an unprecedented consistory to appoint cardinals in August and a visit to the city where Celestine V, the first pontiff to resign, is buried, have fueled speculation about the possible end of his pontificate in the media of various countries, but nothing indicates that Francisco has that intention.
“Whenever the pope is sick, there is a breeze or a conclave hurricane,” Francis warned last September, when he said that “it had not crossed his mind” to resign after his colon operation a few months earlier.
But it was also Francis who in 2014 assured that “Benedict XVI is not a unique case”, but “someone who opened a door, that of the pope emeritus”, which fuels the cyclical rumors about his possible resignation.
Because right now? The inability of Francisco, 85, to officiate some masses due to his knee problems and a set of concomitant circumstances have increased the rumors.
One of them has been the decision announced this Sunday to participate on August 28 in the celebration of Forgiveness in L’Aquila (central Italy) instituted by Celestine V, the first pope who, pressured by the weight of the position, resigned in 1294 , after little more than four months of pontificate, and retired to a contemplative life.
A day before, the consistory will be held for the appointment of 21 cardinals, 16 of them possible electors in a conclave, at a time of the year that is not very preferred for this type of ceremonies. This is due to the fact that the pandemic and the consequent impossibility of traveling have forced major events in the Vatican to be postponed for almost two years.
With this, according to some, the pope has wanted to speed up the design of a conclave from which a substitute will emerge to continue with his reforms, and he also summoned the cardinals to explain the details of his new apostolic constitution “Praedicate evangelium”.
“The consistory had to be convened because the number of cardinal electors had fallen below 120. The interesting thing, that the pope summoned the cardinals to Rome also for a two-day discussion, and this had not happened since 2014. It will be a important moment to take the temperature of the college of cardinals, ”explains Massimo Faggioli, professor of the history of Christianity at Villanova University (USA).
Francis has proclaimed 7 consistories, the first eight years ago and practically one every year, excluding 2021 due to the pandemic, and he already had a large majority of cardinals chosen by him. After August 27, in a possible conclave there will be 83 cardinal electors appointed by Jorge Bergoglio, compared to 38 by Joseph Ratzinger and 11 by Karol Wojtyła.
“What is clear is that the pope has mobility problems due to pain in his knee, but he has no other problem to continue governing the Church,” Irish journalist Gerad O’Connell, Rome correspondent for the magazine, told EFE. of the Society of Jesus America Magazine.
“There is no evidence that he wants to resign,” says this veteran Vatican expert, close to the Argentine pontiff and author of the book “The Election of Pope Francis: An Intimate Account of the Conclave that Changed History.”
And, beyond rumours, he explains that what appears to be a “surprising” meeting of the college of cardinals at the end of August, coinciding with the consistory, actually responds to “a request from the cardinals themselves, since many of them do not know each other ”.
For the director of Communication of the University of Santa Croce in Rome, Giovanni Tridente, “the rumors about the resignation of Francisco go along the same lines as the pools in the conclaves: they are material for gossip and have no solid basis”.
“Because right now? Because it is unusual to see a pope in a wheelchair and because, every time someone has health problems, they always think of the worst. But he has never lost his smile, nor the strength, nor the will to move on and travel. It doesn’t really seem like an attitude of resignation”, he adds to EFE.
Faggioli considers something “premature” to speak of resignation: “We have not reached that point. (Former) President (of the USA Franklin) Roosevelt led World War II from a wheelchair. And we are far from the state of health of John Paul II in the last years of his pontificate.
Beyond the coincidences, all the experts agree that Francis will never resign as long as Benedict XVI is still alive and that a regulation of the unprecedented figure of the pope emeritus is becoming more and more necessary: that may be the next step.
In these months, moreover, Bergoglio is expected to complete his reform of the Church’s administration with the appointment of new “ministers”, and in October of next year the Synod will gather bishops from all over the world in Rome.
And Francis’ apostolic trips have not ceased either: at the beginning of July to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, at the end of the same month to Canada and in September to Kazakhstan.