Rumors regarding the possible resignation of Pope Francis gathered new steam last week as the 85-year-old pope announced two August events.
The pope announced a consistory to create new cardinals and a visit to the city of L’Aquila, according to the Associated Press.
The report noted that it was not the actions themselves, but what could be read into them, that set tongues wagging.
The significance of the visit to L’Aquila, located in central Italy, is that the feast he will celebrate there was initiated by Pope Celestine V. Celestine is among the few popes to ever resign. Pope Benedict XVI stepped aside in 2013, prompting the selection of Francis.
The significance of the consistory Francis called for Aug. 27 is that 21 new cardinals will be named, including 16 who are under 80 and can participate in the voting for the next pope.
Once these cardinals are named, Pope Francis will have named 83 of the 132 voting-age members of the College of Cardinals.
During the consistory, Francis said he has set aside two days to discuss reforms he is imposing on the Vatican bureaucracy.
Rumors abound that @Pontifex could resign after an announced visit to L’Aquila. #PopeCelestineV (who resigned) is buried there. PopeBenedictXVI visited before his resignation. But the Pope’s wheelchair may say more about his resignation than this visit. https://t.co/YmtJ0m3YMO
— Raymond Arroyo (@RaymondArroyo) June 5, 2022
Under the changes, women can head Vatican offices, term limits are set on Vatican employees who are priests and the philosophical position is taken that the Vatican exists to serve churches, not the other way around.
The timing of the actions, coming in August when Italy is essentially on vacation, has made them fodder for speculation.
“With today’s news that @Pontifex will go to L’Aquila in the very middle of the August consistory, it all got even more intriguing,” Vatican commentator Robert Mickens tweeted.
— Robert Mickens (@robinrome) June 4, 2022
In 2009, Benedict visited L’Aquila and prayed at Celestine’s tomb. The visit acquired a different meaning four years later when Benedict resigned.
Francis has said Benedict’s retirement was “opening the door” for other popes to do the same.
The pope’s schedule shows no signs of him departing, but he is wheelchair-bound due to strained ligaments in his right knee. He was first seen in public in the wheelchair in early May.
Honduran Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga said resignation speculation was just talk.
“I think these are optical illusions, cerebral illusions,” Maradiaga said.
Christopher Bellitto, a church historian at Kean University in New Jersey, said Francis is not likely to resign until after the death of Benedict, who is 95.
“He’s not going to have two former popes floating around,” Bellitto said.
He cautioned against reading too much into the visit to L’Aquila.
“I don’t recall a lot of stories at the time saying that Benedict’s visit in 2009 made us think he was going to resign,” he said.
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