Benedict’s death paves the way for Pope Francis to retire from old age in the future
VATICAN CITY, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Six months ago, Pope Francis dismissed speculation that he was about to resign due to ill health, but even if he had toyed with the idea, he faced a major hurdle: he already there was another former pope. in retirement.
The death on Saturday of Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff in 600 years to resign rather than reign for life, should make any decision to step down easier for Francis and the Church, which has fought so hard. enough to have “two potatoes”. , let alone three: two retired and one reigning.
It could also prompt the current pontiff to review what happens to future popes who decide to leave office due to old age rather than wait until they die.
Francis is now 86 years old, a year older than Benedict when he retired. Despite needing a cane and a wheelchair, he shows no signs of slowing down. Trips are planned for Africa this month and Portugal in August.
He has made it clear that he would not hesitate to resign one day if mental or physical health prevented him from leading the Church of 1.3 billion members.
In an interview with Reuters on July 2, he dismissed rumors of an imminent resignation. “It never crossed my mind,” he said, also denying rumors among diplomats that he had cancer.
The previous month, the Catholic media world and some secular outlets had been caught up in a frenzy of unsubstantiated reports and frivolous tweets that speculated that he would be out in a few months.
But as the 10th anniversary of his election in March approaches, and the ninth decade of his life in four years, the chances of resignation will increase.
Church law says a pope can resign, but the decision must be made without outside pressure, a precaution that dates back to the centuries when European potentates influenced the papacy.
NO LONGER UNTHINKABLE
Now that life extension has made papal resignations no longer unthinkable, there have been repeated calls from Church leaders to regulate the role of former pontiffs, in part due to confusion caused by two men dressed in white. They live in the Vatican.
Francis told a Spanish newspaper last month that he did not intend to define the legal status of popes emeritus, although he had previously privately indicated that a Vatican department could draft such rules.
Australian Cardinal George Pell, a Conservative close to Benedict, has written that while a retired pontiff could retain the title “pope emeritus”, he should once again become a cardinal and be known as “cardinal (surname), papa emeritus”. “.
Pell also said that a former pontiff should not wear white, as Benedict did, telling Reuters in a 2020 interview that it was important for Catholics to be clear that “there is only one pope.”
Academics and canon lawyers at the University of Bologna in Italy who have studied the issue say the Church cannot risk even the appearance of having “two heads or two kings” and have proposed a set of rules.
They say a former pope should not go back to being a cardinal, as Pell proposes, but rather be called “bishop emeritus of Rome.”
Francis told Reuters in July that this is precisely what he would like to be called.
In that case, there might not be a need for new legislation, so it would be subject to the existing rules covering retired bishops.
The existing rules say that bishops emeritus must “avoid any attitude and relationship that could even hint at some kind of parallel authority to that of the diocesan bishop, with detrimental consequences for pastoral life and the unity of the diocesan community.”
Although he had retired, Benedict XVI wrote, gave interviews and, unknowingly or not, became a lightning rod for opponents of Pope Francis, either for doctrinal reasons or because they were reluctant to give up the clerical privileges the new Pope wanted. dismantle.
Francis told Reuters he would not stay in the Vatican or return to his native Argentina, but would live modestly in a home for retired priests in the Italian capital “because it is my diocese.” He said he would like it to be near a large church so he can spend his last days hearing confessions.
Reporting by Philip Pullella Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky
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