For more than a year there have been persistent rumors of Pope Francis’ imminent resignation: pictures of the pope in a wheelchair during his recent trip to Canada have fueled such speculation, along with his own references to poor health.
This month, Francis is expected at L’Aquila, Italy, the burial place of the first pope to resign in 1294, Celestine V, in what is believed to be a significant visit. Pope Benedict also made a symbolic pilgrimage to L’Aquila – and surprised the world in 2013 with his unexpected resignation.
Francis had part of a lung removed as a young priest, and more recently part of his colon was removed. He has aching arthritic knees caused by osteoporosis, debilitating sciatica, and other aches and pains. He also worries about his energy. But look – he’s 85. That’s been happening in the last few years.
Many old people will identify with His Holiness and can see a case for His retirement. But still I think it’s a bad idea.
First, the Catholic Church has enough problems without stand-up comics poking fun at the absurdity of two ex-popes, modeled on Oscar Wilde’s sarcastic Lady Bracknell. ‘To lose a parent, Mr Worthing, may be considered unfortunate; Losing both looks like negligence.” Receiving a pope emeritus may be acceptable: having two looks, like rejecting popes, is becoming a habit.
Although Benedict and Francis seem to get along pretty well – played engagingly in the 2019 film by Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Pryce The two popes – it hardly inspires confidence to see them tripping over each other. (Benedict is now 95 years old and appears to be in excellent health: some Vaticanologists expected he would have gone sooner for his eternal reward.)
Second, there is the issue of example. Pope Francis has made it his special task to promote respect for the elderly. He kept saying that oldies shouldn’t be excluded, shouldn’t be lonely, should stay part of the community. He recently said that the old can teach the young so much.
This is an admirable message: but one way to engage older people is to accept their contribution to society, which can mean continued employment, paid or voluntary.
Check out Nancy Pelosi. She is 82 years old and still spirited enough to defy the powerful Xi Jinping by deciding to visit Taiwan. Look at 79-year-old Joe Biden — he plans to run for another term in 2024, and while he’s had some issues with, say, absent-mindedness, he’s still poised to move on.
And think of Queen Elizabeth: now 96, and despite her own health woes — not to mention an embarrassed son and a grandson, Harry, who is set to anger the family with his forthcoming Tell-All memoir — she still does them smiling duty, read her red boxes and prepared for her 15th prime minister on September 5th.
Shall the Pope of Rome be surpassed by a woman and a Protestant? Certainly, a little friendly competition to see who can last the longest at the plow is in order. Admittedly, being Pope is no joke these days.
The Catholic Church is deeply divided between liberals and conservatives: The German Church is in full rebellion and close enough to following the path of Martin Luther. Across the West, pews are emptying as the axis of Christianity shifts more to the developing world.
Francis himself has a mixed reputation. He is often valued more by humanists, even atheists, than by conventional Catholics. Some Catholics consider him a virtual communist or even a “pagan”: in Canada he participated in spiritual rituals with First Nation people, drawing some disapproval. He was of course right to apologize for past crimes of abuse by Catholic clergy, but his criticism of “assimilationism” lacked context. Almost all educators once believed that helping to assimilate less developed cultures was progressive, even liberal – it wasn’t always malicious, as Papa Francis claimed.
He has a demanding program ahead of him. He wants to keep his promise to visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan. He hopes to go to Ukraine – and also to Russia. A world meeting of religious leaders will take place in September, which will no doubt completely resolve existing differences. He is also to beatify Pope John Paul I, whose papal reign in 1978 was the shortest in history – just 33 days.
But it is precisely in a time of division and difficulty that leadership is needed, as well as perseverance in the face of general and personal challenges.
Of course, if a pope were terminally ill or had dementia, he would have to retire. But as long as it can work, it should. Saint Bridget of Sweden was famous for advising popes, and if she were to do so today, she could quote a phrase from the ancient Romans: “Persevera consimilis militis” – “Soldat on!”
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/despite-aching-limbs-and-advancing-years-pope-francis-must-set-the-standard-by-soldiering-on-41901381.html Despite aching limbs and advancing years, Pope Francis must set standards by moving on