Why Rumors Of Pope Francis' Resignation Are Causing Such An Uproar

When Pope Benedict XVI, born Joseph Aloisius Ratzinger, abdicated the papacy in 2013 he was the first pontiff in six centuries to do so. Although elected for life, the pope is allowed to quit of his own free will per Catholic church law, as Reuters explains. A series of clues, including recent serious health issues, have now led Vatican observers to believe that Pope Benedict XVI's successor, Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, may soon follow suit and resign the position. Should this come to pass, the Vatican could find itself in uncharted territory.

The first pope to ever quit was Pope Benedict IX in the 1040s. Following that, only three more pontiffs decided to quit, with the last one to do so prior to Pope Benedict XVI being Pope Celestine V, who served for only a matter of months in 1294, according to History. What leads some to now speculate that another papal resignation may now be in the works include just how bad Pope Francis' health has become, as well as a few tell-tale meetings and trips the pontiff has planned on his schedule.

Pope Francis is now in a wheelchair

The declining health of Pope Francis took on new urgency when the pontiff appeared in 2022 in a wheelchair after undergoing minor surgery for knee pain, as The Guardian notes. That issue challenged the 85-year-old pontiff as of this report with mobility issues, hampering the proper execution of his duties. In addition to minor knee surgery, Francis has also had colon surgery. All combined, this leads some to think that Pope Francis might be planning to resign.

In the instance of John Paul II, that process took a decade, though, so there may be no immediate designs for Francis to step down. There are also clues that Pope Francis himself never intended to stay long as head of the head of the Catholic Church. Speaking with Mexican broadcaster Televisa in 2015, two years after he was elected, Pope Francis said (via Time), "I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief," at only four or five years. As of this writing, Pope Francis' reign has lasted nearly a decade.

Vatican observers are noting the pope's calendar

 As well as health challenges, there are a series of events on Pope Francis' schedule that are symbolic of steps that a pontiff might take before he resigns his position, according to observers. Chief among them is an event called a consistory, scheduled for August of 2022, during which new cardinals will be created, some of whom would be involved in selecting his replacement. After that Francis plans to attend the ancient "Feast of Forgiveness," which is a festival launched by Pope Celestine V, who resigned the papacy in the 13th century.

Robert Mickens is the Rome-based editor of the English-language edition of La Croix, a Catholic daily newspaper. Mickens agrees that this sequence of events is unusual, and that it might mean that Francis plans to resign. Mickens added (via The Guardian) "It's very odd to have a consistory in August," and there's no reason for Pope Francis to call the event three months in advance and then "go to L'Aquila in the middle of it," Mickens said. Pope Francis early also described the decision to step down as courageous early on in his tenure, and added that he'd like to see papal resignations become much more common, as The Guardian goes on to explain.

Three popes are two popes too many

What has Vatican experts most concerned is that when Pope Benedict XVI , who is still alive, stepped down in 2013, he remained in the Vatican, becoming the so-called "emeritus pope," according to Newsweek. Should Francis follow suit, there could, in theory, be two emeritus popes and one reigning pope in the Vatican. Given that many Catholics consider a pope to be pope until they die, the Catholic Church could be in new territory should a disagreement arise between three living popes and no protocols in place to handle the situation.

According to Vatican affairs observer John Thavis (speaking with Newsweek), "[B]ishops and ordinary Catholics may be tempted to take sides," even though two former popes in that scenario would have no real power. In an interview in 2019 (via the Catholic Herald), Benedict himself reiterated: "The pope is one, it is Francis."

Regardless of what Pope Francis has in mind, the project to update the Roman Curia with a series of liberal reforms which have become the hallmark of Francis' tenure is nearly complete for the pontiff. This may offer further evidence that the time Pope Francis chooses to step down is quickly approaching, according to NPR.