Is Pope Francis Planning His Resignation?

August 01, 2022
Pope Francis with the “City Angels”

The Swiss agency of June 28 echoes the rumors that have multiplied about a possible resignation of the pope. The health of the 85-year-old pontiff, forced to move around in a wheelchair or with the help of an orthopedic cane, contributed to fueling these rumors, and a few events at the start of the summer are intensifying them.

The Pope announced the creation of new cardinals during a consistory on August 27, which will be immediately followed by a meeting of cardinals from around the world. Officially, this meeting is to review the recent reform of the Roman Curia, but it is also an opportunity for cardinals to get to know each other, especially in case they have to participate in a conclave.

This leads some Vaticanists to say that Francis is shaping an assembly of electors in tune with the diversity of the universal Church, but also with his own vision of the Church.

Additionally, an announcement from the Vatican in early June reignited speculation that while all the cardinals are in Rome, the pope will make a one-day pilgrimage to the cathedral in L'Aquila, Abruzzo, where Pope Celestine V is buried – he was a pope who resigned his office.

Faced with these rumors, the Pope made a point of informing some Brazilian bishops on their ad limina visit in mid-June, and on July 2 to the Vaticanist Philip Pullella – which was partly taken up by the Reuters agency on July 4 – that a resignation is not on the agenda “for the moment,” insisting: “no, for the moment, no. Really!”

However, he did said he could resign the day his failing health made him unable to lead the Church. Without mentioning a date: “We don't know. God will tell.”

Francis admitted to having suffered “a small fracture” in his knee by taking a false step when one of the ligaments was already inflamed, but he assured Philip Pullella: “I am slowly getting better,” declaring that his fracture was healing, helped by laser therapy and magnetotherapy.

He also said he did not want to have knee surgery because the general anesthetic last year [during his colon surgery] had negative side effects.

Indeed, for Colleen Dulle, a journalist at the Jesuit magazine America, quoted by on June 28, there are serious reasons to doubt the Pope's resignation in the near future.

The Vaticanist first points to a simple explanation for the unusual date of the consistory, which was to take place in November: the Pope may be looking to save the cardinals some money and limit the time spent outside their dioceses by combining the consistory and meeting in one trip.

Plus, there's his own timeline: despite his infirmity, Francis has planned to visit Kazakhstan in September, and other trips are rumored to be planned for 2023. Although popes can pass trips on to their successors , it seems improbable that the Argentine pontiff would not intend to go there himself.

Finally, it must be taken into account that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is still alive. Francis will likely want to make some changes to the status of a “retired pope” once he is in that position himself – such as adopting the title “bishop emeritus of Rome” rather than “pope emeritus.”

He would also not wear white – in order to dispel the idea that there are two popes. But it's hard to imagine Francis taking such steps while Benedict XVI remains pope emeritus. Other observers have also noted the danger of “confusion” and the “incongruity” that the presence of three popes in Rome would represent.

Despite everything, Colleen Dulle does not completely rule out the possibility of a resignation if “his state of health deteriorates sharply.” The journalist considers that the pontiff would only abandon his functions insofar as his mental faculties were greatly diminished. While an imminent renunciation is therefore implausible, it is not unrealistic for Francis to prepare the ground for such a development in the medium term.

“He knows he won't live forever and is working hard to secure his legacy through reform of the Curia, the overall synodal process (due to end in 2023), and his appointments to the College of Cardinals.”

It is precisely the question of the Pope's state of mental health that the Argentinian blog Caminante Wanderer on June 14 does not hesitate to raise, which was then taken up by the Vaticanist Aldo Maria Valli on June 17.

According to him, the pope's interview with the editors of the Jesuit reviews in Europe on May 22, published in La Civiltà cattolica, show that “the sovereign pontiff's biggest problems are not his bad knee or his intestinal diverticula, but something much more serious that affects the balance of his judgment.”

This compatriot of the pope sees in this interview “the symptoms of a dissociated personality. The pope speaks of bishops coming from Europe or America, as if it was not he who had brought them, as if he himself was not directly responsible for these episcopal appointments. We read, for example, this paragraph: ‘An Argentinian bishop told me that he had been asked to administer a diocese that had fallen into the hands of these restorers.’”

“It clearly refers to the diocese of San Rafael, the only one with an apostolic administrator [Bishop Carlos María Domínguez.- Ed.] and which has a ‘restorationist’ profile. But Francis says that this bishop ‘was asked.’ Who asked him? But he himself, since there is no one else who can appoint bishops or apostolic administrators other than the pope of Rome, and even more so in the case of Argentina, to which exclusive management is reserved.”

Still according to Caminante Wanderer, “it is the same psychopathic disorder that leads Francis to become entangled in an elegy towards Fr. Pedro Arrupe, s.j., with florid allusions to Paul VI, without realizing (or perhaps if) that with this he does nothing but sully the memory of John Paul II, who in 1981 removed Arrupe as Superior General of the Company, due to the not only progressive but also atheistic drift to which the admired ‘prophet’ of Bergoglio had driven it.”

But can one, from these remarks, really speak of “dissociated personality”? The Argentinian blogger himself acknowledges that his diagnosis is that of an “amateur,” not as a specialist. However, he sees in the pope's obsessive speech a paradoxically favorable occasion for a future restoration.

According to him, “the more Francis talks about Vatican II and the more he insists on it, the more this disastrous event will be disliked, because it will be associated with him and with the pathetic becoming of his pontificate.”

“For this reason perhaps it is better to have even more patience and to pray to God that he will keep the Servant of his servants on earth a little longer, so that with his awkwardness, he will may finish smearing everything that needs to be soiled and his successor be facilitated in the task of putting everything back on track and ‘restoring’ the Church with her true face, so disfigured.” – This is what politicians and sociologists call a pendulum effect.

Less political and more realistic, the Vaticanist Sandro Magister noted in his blog of June 20: “At the sunset of this pontificate there is great confusion under heaven, all the greater the more Francis centralizes all the powers in himself, as if moved by the irrepressible anxiety to do on his own what the incapable ‘institution’ is not doing.”

And he reveals: “To an Argentine priest friend of his whom he met with at Santa Marta in recent days, the pope confided that he is reading the last [posthumous] book of the late Jesuit cardinal Carlo Maria Martini [1927-2012 ], Night Conversation in Jerusalem [Bayard, 2013], and that he fully subscribes to the thesis: “The Church is 200 years behind the time.”

“Francis anxiety is close by himself, in his last few years as pope, this two-century gap of backwardness in the Church. With the effects that are plain for all to see.” – This idée fixe of Pope Francis is easily observable and difficult to contest.