PopeWatch: Retirement



Karl Keating speculates about a possible retirement by Pope Francis:

A year ago, on the return flight from a visit to South Korea, Francis said to the reporters who accompanied him, “Let us think about what [Benedict XVI] said, ‘I have got old, I do not have the strength.’ It was a beautiful gesture of nobility, of humility and courage.” Then, with a reference to his own frail constitution, he said, “I know this will last a short time, two or three years, and then to the house of the Father.” Two years from 2014 is 2016.

If Francis retires (please notice: “if,” not “when,” since I’m not predicting that he will retire, only that he might), I don’t think it would be before October’s synod. He certainly would want to see that project through. Unlike some others, I’m not much concerned about the wayward cardinals and bishops who will be in attendance. I don’t think they will come close to having the votes to force through a less-than-orthodox final statement, and I don’t for a minute suspect that Francis secretly wants them to prevail.

Nothing in his moral teaching over the years—whether as cardinal or pope—gives any support to such speculation. But I do think Francis wants the synod to be a “success” (however he envisions that), and I wouldn’t be surprised if he thought that, seeing it to its conclusion, he had “done his duty” and could feel free to lay aside papal responsibilities.

Like Celestine V, Francis undoubtedly is a holy man. Also like Celestine, though to a considerably lesser degree, he does not match his recent predecessors in terms of diplomatic or administrative skills.

It is not a sign of a lack of filial respect to note what many have noted, that Francis, when speaking extemporaneously, frequently speaks confusingly. The proof is in how often Fr. Federico Lombardi, director of the Holy See’s press office, finds himself before the cameras, trying to put an acceptable spin on the Pope’s words.

Of course, over the last several decades, under Lombardi and his predecessor, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, there were many occasions for the press office to explain a papal writing or utterance, but normally those were restatements, in popular language, of subtle and precise papal wording. Under Francis, the need has been somewhat different.

The press office has had to put theological substance into colloquial expressions such as “Who am I to judge?”—a comment that many people thought meant that one couldn’t pass judgment on the sinfulness of the homosexual lifestyle. It’s easy to take off-the-cuff remarks out of context, because they often don’t have much context. It’s harder to misconstrue written remarks that have gone through the customary and long Vatican editorial process.


I think that by this time Francis understands that, however successful he has been in terms of image, he has not had as much success in terms of teaching, nor has he had as much success in terms of reorganization of the Vatican machinery.


Go here to read the rest.  Quien sabe?  If Pope Francis decides to retire, PopeWatch suspects it will be a matter of impulse with him blurting it out during an interview.  Pope Francis is obviously a man who lives very much from moment to moment with few long term plans.  If he decides that he cannot accomplish what he wishes to as Pope, it is easy to imagine him doing a snap retirement announcement.  The more intriguing question is what would happen if he were to announce his retirement and then rescind it a few days later.

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  1. Somewhere in all this “Francis may retire” confusion, a little voice in the back of my head keeps asking, “How many retired popes can fit on the head of a pin?”

  2. Until the 19th century, most popes were remarkably reticent.

    A good example is Benedict XIV (Prospero Lambertini). He was probably the greatest canon lawyer to occupy the Chair of St Peter (his only rival is Innocent IV). Once, he was chatting to an old friend, a professor of law at Bologna, who put to him a long-disputed point of canon law. Benedict excused himself, observing that it would not be right for him to venture an opinion on a question that might one day come before him judicially.

    For the same reason, most of the popes from Sixtus V to Pio Nono, refused to discuss controversial points of theology, except in their formal judgments, in which they tended to confine to the condemnation of erroneous propositions; even then, they refrained from stating their reasons.

  3. He has two and half more years left of the five year plan to ” reform” the Church get it back on track. Karl Keating could be on to something. Pope Francis could be speeding up the process, examples “FamilySynod” and the man made climate change encyclical Laudato Si in preparation for the Paris UN conference in December of this year. His recent visit to South America and upcoming visit to Cuba and the UN here in the United States are pretty significant signs.
    Cardinal Mc Carrick’s influential Italian visitor said it is a five year plan if Cardinal Bergoglio gets elected to the papacy. Cardinal Mc Carrick said this at Villanova University starts about 18 minutes into his speech on Pope Francis. Don’t believe me, watch what he says.

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