Pope fuels new rumours of his resignation with visit to key tomb

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Pope Francis has fuelled speculation he is poised to retire after announcing he will attend a ceremony founded by one of the few pontiffs who stepped down from the role during their reign.

umours of a papal resignation in Italian and Catholic media have been bolstered by the Vatican’s announcement on Saturday that the Pope will visit the city of L’Aquila in August for a feast initiated by Pope Celestine V.

Traditionally, popes are expected to hold their post until death, but there have been some exceptions to the rule, including Celestine V and more recently Benedict XVI.

The Vatican and the rest of Italy are usually on holiday in August to mid-September, with all but essential business closed, prompting the timing of the visit to raise eyebrows in Rome.

“With today’s news that [the Pope] will go to L’Aquila in the very middle of the August consistory, it all got even more intriguing,” tweeted Robert Mickens, a Vatican commentator, linking to an essay he had published about the pontificate’s future.

The basilica in L’Aquila hosts the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit pope who resigned after five months in 1294, overwhelmed by the job. In 2009, Benedict visited L’Aquila, which had been devastated by an earthquake and prayed at Celestine’s tomb.

For weeks now, the Pope’s increased mobility problems caused by a strained ligament and his use of a wheelchair have prompted Vatican watchers to wonder whether he might follow in the footsteps of Benedict, who resigned in 2013 after almost eight years.

Last month, Italian daily newspaper Il Foglio reported that Pope Francis had said he would rather retire than undergo knee surgery.

The announcement last week of a consistory to create 21 new cardinals has further convinced some commentators of the Pope’s intention to retire. Sixteen of the cardinals are under the age of 80 and therefore eligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis’s successor.

Once they are added to the ranks, the pontiff will have stacked the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 voting-age cardinals.

While there is no guarantee how the cardinals might vote, the chances that they will tap a successor who shares the incumbent Pope’s pastoral priorities become ever greater.

Francis was elected in 2013 on a mandate to reform the Roman Curia. Now that the nine-year project has been rolled out and at least partially implemented, Francis’s main task has in some ways been accomplished.

In September 2021, after being invited by the Bishop of Ragusa to attend the 75th anniversary of the foundation of the diocese in 2025, the Holy Father reportedly smiled and told the bishop that John XXVI would be making the visit, not him, sparking talk of an imminent retirement.

Last year, after undergoing colon surgery, rumours began circulating he would soon leave the Vatican owing to his worsening health.

“I’m not playing this game,” he told a Spanish radio station at the time. “Every time a pope is sick there is a wind, hurricane, of conclave.”

Despite the speculation surrounding his tenure, the pontiff has a series of major engagements in his calendar.

 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

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