Did Pope Francis predict his own death?

During the presser on the airplane returning from Korea, the Pope spoke of the role, rather the “institution” of Pope Emeritus.  He also spoke of his own death.

Keep in mind that some time ago I predicted that Pope Francis, now 77, would resign when he reaches 80 years old.  And before any of you go running around declaring that I want him to resign, please note that I simply think that that is what he will do.

I, frankly, am not pleased about this Pope Emeritus thing.  I greatly respect Benedict XVI.  I think I understand why he abdicated, but I can’t say I am happy about it, for various reasons I need not go into here.

Let’s have look at some things the Holy Father Pope Francis said on the airplane.  HERE 

First, the Pope Emeritus stuff.  It’s a little disjointed, but you can get what he is driving at:

German journalist from KNA:

What type of relationship is there between you and Benedict XVI? Is there an habitual exchange of opinions and ideas? Is there a common project after this encyclical?

Pope Francis:

We see each other. Before leaving I went to see him. He, two weeks prior, had sent me an interesting text and he asked me an opinion. We have a normal relationship because I go back to this idea and maybe a theologian doesn’t like it. But, I think that the pope emeritus is not an exception. After so many centuries, he’s [Benedict’s] the first emeritus and let’s think that if i am aged and don’t have the strength, but it was a beautiful gesture of nobility and also humility and courage. But, I think that 70 years ago also the bishops emeritus were an exception. They didn’t exist. Today, the bishops emeritus are an institution. [NB] I think that the pope emeritus is already an institution. Why? Our lives are getting longer and at a certain age there is not the capacity to govern well, because the body tires and health perhaps is good but there is the capacity to carry forward all of the problems like those in the governance of the church. I think that Pope Benedict made this gesture of popes emeritus. I repeat that maybe some theologian would say this isn’t just, but i think like this. The centuries will tell if it’s like this or not, we’ll see, but if you can to say to me, ‘but do you think that one day if you don’t feel like it, will you go on?’ But, I would do the same. I would do the same. I will pray, but I would do the same. He opened a door that is institutional not exceptional.


Pretty clear.

On the other hand, when answering a question about how he handle’s his popularity…

French journalist Anais Martin, French Radio:

In Rio, when the crowd yelled “Francesco, Francesco!” you responded “Cristo, Cristo!” Today, how do you manage this immense popularity? How do you live it?

Pope Francis:

I don’t know how to tell you. I live it thanking the Lord that his people are happy. I really do that, hoping the best for the people of God. I live it as generosity towards the people. On the inside, I try to think of my sins and my errors not to flatter myself because I know it won’t last long. Two or three years and then (makes a sound and gesture) up to the house of the of the Father.


I have the sense that His Holiness doesn’t think he will be Pope after another 3 years or so, that he will either have died or he will be in bad enough shape that he will resign.

Please pray for His Holiness daily.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Supertradmum says:

    Fr.Z, this is very strange. Before I left England last year, and Ireland, I was speaking with friends about Pope Francis and I said I did not think he would be pope for very long and that he would die “youngish”. I also shared this idea with some friends here in the States. I do not even know why this came to me, but I think he is correct in his intuitions. God allowed Pope Francis to become pope for some excellent reasons, letting the love of the institutional Church shine forth through his popularity like a little light sputtering before some great darkness tries to put it out.

    Let us all pray for him. Despite some blogs and websites which spew forth hatred on this man, I actually think he is the “pope for the time” and before he passes on, we shall see some heroic deeds, I believe.

    Any pope who loves Mary as much as Pope Francis does is a good man.

  2. Siculum says:

    Praying for our two Popes.

    Very helpful post, Father.

  3. JesusFreak84 says:

    My gut at his election was that this would be a short papacy, he and Benedict having papacies of a length more keeping with most of Christian history. WITH NO ILL WILL towards the Holy Father, I do think this is better for the faithful. The multi-decade papacy of John Paul II created a cult of personality that I believe has been VERY unhealthy to the 70s and 80s kids in the Church (going by birth year) and it allowed the Papacy to become more entwined with a specific man than the Holy Spirit would intend, (again, this is all my opinion.) Benedict’s abdication and Francis either being called home shortly or abdicating himself may help Catholics to realize that Popes are men but the Papacy is an office.

    Someone tell me Mahoney {sp?} won’t be able to vote in the next conclave, going off of the Holy Father’s loose timeline…

  4. CradleRevert says:

    Father, if you cared to elaborate in a new post, I would be interested in hearing why you aren’t a fan of the pope emeritus situation. I’m still not sure what to make of it, so I’d be interested in hearing your viewpoint.

  5. kpoterack says:

    “Someone tell me Mahoney {sp?} won’t be able to vote in the next conclave, going off of the Holy Father’s loose timeline…”

    KP: If Pope Francis can make it past Feb. 27, 2016, then your wish will come true. I have said this before, but I will say it again. When I was in Rome a little over a year ago (June/July 2013) and heard Pope Francis talk, I was a bit shocked. He was clearly running out of breath every second or third sentence, and then had to take a big gulp of air. Perhaps it was a particularly bad day, but it didn’t sound encouraging in regard to his health. And I know that he has had the one lung since he was a teenager and has managed this long, but when you go into old age with an already existing problem . . . [Not quite. He had one lobe of one lung removed.]

    I have seen how older people can really decline after 80 – and these are retired folks who can rest, not heads of world religions.

  6. Flavius Hesychius says:

    I remember watching B16 on Christmas Eve on TV. He sounded tired, and seemed to struggled chanting the prayers. I’ve noticed His Holiness run out of breath while talking, which isn’t surprising since he has one lung (I think…). Either way, as JesusFreak said, short papacies discourage cults of personality. B16 had to fight not being JP2, regardless of what he said—even if he said the exact same thing as JP2 (or maybe JP2 had the benefit of rosy-coloured glasses, I don’t know).

    St. Peter, pray for your successors.

  7. Phil_NL says:

    My intuition regarding the possibility of the Holy Father’s abdication is the same – I don’t think he’ll want to push his pontificate into infirmity. An infirmity which, with modern care, could last decades, thereby making the option of a papal abdication more logical. While JP’s path was a great – and saintly! – example, I don’t think that every Pope would be called to set an example in that very same way, possible for a much, much longer time.

    However, I think Francis may hold on for longer than just a few years. One of the reasons for this is that, Deo Gratias, BXVI seems to be in at least adequate health, and may be with us for some time yet. I think that Fracis would recognize that have two Pope emeriti at the same time might be a bit too much, especially given the novelty of that institution.
    And also given the different characters of BXVI and Francis; somehow (though I might be wrong) I have trouble seeing Francis retire in the same manner – very much in the background – as did BXVI. If there would be a contrast, that would most likely not work to the Church’s advantage. Last but not least, Francis will at some point have to take stock of his own pontificate. I think he’ll then conclude that quite a lot of what he hoped to do isn’t done yet, and one has to remain in the job to get it done.

    My guess is that abdication might wait a bit longer than 2-3 years.

  8. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I hope “two or three years” is just a figure of speech! He’s goofy, sometimes, but he’s our pope.

    But whatever the Lord wills… I’m pretty sure nobody wants my ideas running the universe!

  9. Jesusfreak84, Mahony will be ineligible to vote Feb 27 2016…

    Long pontificates are not the norm, and while I still do not think it was a good decision for Pope Benedict XVI to abdicate, I agree that we’re going to start seeing papacies that are more in line with the normal reign times. However, I do not know if Pope Francis will make it much longer considering the rate at which he works himself….(again wishing no ill will towards Pope Francis)

    [Have you seen the Mahony Countdown at Eponymous Flower? (What an odd string of words that was.)]

  10. Gregg the Obscure says:

    The Oremus pro Pontifice has a partial indulgence attached. It’s part of my morning routine – as is prayer for Pope Benedict (forget where I first saw it, but “I pray for the Holy Father Benedict. may his cooperation in the truth bring him to the fullness of all Charity. Memorare)

  11. Random Friar says:

    I tend to agree with both your statements (not being fond of abdications nor wanting anything but good health for the Holy Father). The Petrine cross is a very, very heavy cross in our times. We may not have mercenaries chasing out or imprisoning the Holy Father, but the sheer amount of work and travel that they do would fell many a freshly-minted young priest. Having Buenos Aires on your shoulders is one thing. The world and all its problems is crushing.

  12. Salvelinus says:

    Mahoney might be ineligible, but the numbers of Mahoney like cardinals still predominate

  13. marcelus says:

    Reason he speaks the way he does is because b he had lived every since 21 yo with 1 1/2 lungs. He had half of it removed since in those days that was the standard procedure for lung infection. If you saw Crdl Bergoglio in BA compared to Francis today you would think these are 2 different men. The holy ghost had worked wonders on him. Lost weight, Smiles constantly, never gets tired. The opposite to the serious Jorge Bergoglio. Francis God willing, Will be around for lots more.

  14. Unwilling says:

    Fascinating! It is a relief to understand my circumspicious attitude as a charity toward a Pope otherwise so overwhelmed by the adulation of the happy.

  15. LeeF says:

    On the Catholic Culture site is an article about John Paul I predicting his own death where he said: “”I’ll never leave Rome. I’ll be going soon.” ”


    I remember another story years ago where he was supposed to have said something like, “I must go for he is coming,” referring to his successor, JPII.

    As for that Mahoney clock which is very amusing, I’d rather wait out cardinals who might actually be elected but would be undesirable, like Braz de Aviz.

  16. govmatt says:

    While I certainly haven’t seen the video of the presser yet, here’s my thought:

    Perhaps the “2 to 3 years” thing that the media has been latching onto is merely another expression of Francis-style humility — making the point without being too heavy about it. I read it more as: “Q: Holy Father, you’re so popular!” / “Francis: But in a few years *poof* [Sic Transit Gloria Mundi]” I feel that he could have easily interchanged 2-3 years for “a few months” and had the same result.

    It is more a reminder that “the King is but a man” than a prognosis of impending doom.

    As to the possibility of Popes Emeriti, I am sure Francis would have no problem with it. I see your College of Cardinals and raise you a Pack(?)… Pride(?)…Providence(?) of Popes. Though, in fairness, it seems that Franciscan popularity may prevent his retirement. Francis would keenly realize that, barring an illness that prevents him from being a minister, he will remain beloved by the media.

  17. Priam1184 says:

    I am one of JesusFreak84’s ’70s kids and I agree with him about the length of Saint John Paul II’s papacy. There is a part of me that still can’t entirely believe that someone else is pope much less that John Paul II is now a canonized saint. The man was elected when I was one year old and died when I was almost thirty. One man was the papacy for most of my life but that was the will of the Holy Spirit.

    That said I hope that the current Holy Father sticks around for a while but I am afraid that he will follow BXVI’s path out the door someday. I disagree with the way he does some things but he is good for the Church and for the papacy in my humble opinion and despite his age and infirmities he does have some energy still. Plus I don’t know that the Church could handle having two popes emeritus at the same time.

  18. LeeF says:

    Priam1184 said:
    “Plus I don’t know that the Church could handle having two popes emeritus at the same time.”

    What is there to handle? Emotional angst? There is only a problem if an emeritus pope makes public statements or allows private statements to be made public, that are in conflict with the opinions and pronouncements of the current pope. The current pope can always silence an emeritus if need be, though the necessity of that happening is almost unthinkable, as such an emeritus likely wouldn’t have resigned early to begin with, and since resigning is indicative of a humility that would preclude such situations. Benedict has not only modeled a new paradigm of a term-limited papacy, but that of the conduct of an emeritus pope.

    And the easy solution to avoid multiple emeritus popes is for conclaves to mostly elect men in their 60’s, giving a medium term papacy instead of a series of shorter ones.

  19. Uxixu says:

    While loving most all things traditional, I’m not super disappointed to see the trappings of the Renaissance-era Papacy go away in favor of that of numerous epochs in the history of Mother Church. That said, I have always very much regretted the Holy Father Benedict’s abdication. I really expected him to die not long after and would have certainly understood in that light but grow more puzzled by it as it grows longer in the past. While most of the conspiracy theories are absurd one does wonder at his precise motivations and private reflections he might have on it, but probably won’t share out of tact & respect for his successor, if nothing else. As long as it remains a relatively unique event, it should be harmless but I definitely wary of the example of regular precedent and the implications of having multiple papal emeritus at some point in the future, particularly if one should eventually feel enough to take up the office again.

    Speaking of Cardinal Mahoney, while no fan of most of his works and thoroughly unsatisfied with the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (and so very much wish we could have had Archbishop Cantwell’s vision given life instead), I am curious on the logical rationale behind the mandatory retirements and question if such an arbitrary number is appropriate. Would prefer something like a Chapter of Canons deciding on such issues, with the consent of the Holy Father as a check….

  20. Per Signum Crucis says:

    I think govmatt nailed it: this is Francis’s light-hearted way of saying it could end sooner or it could end later (perhaps the only thing missing is that he didn’t urge all present to GO TO CONFESSION…!).

    What I think is clear is that he makes an important point about adapting to change, something that the Church is not particularly noted for amongst its critics, by highlighting the “institution” of the emeritus bishops and pontiff. It’s not that long ago that priests tended to die in post or be replaced only when in particularly grave health and nothing more was thought or done about it, at least from the congregation’s perspective. Now, parishes in my diocese in the UK at least are being asked to support the Sick and Retired Priests’ Fund. One way of looking at it is that the Church has caught up a little with modern HR practices and social norms. Does that make priests (and for that matter the bishops emeritus, BXVI and FI should he too decide to resign any less holy? No, of course not, but it is a recognition of the age that we and the Church are now in.

  21. Thorfinn says:

    There are two separate points here – as Fr Z says, the first one is clear. Pope Benedict XVI established that pope emeritus is at least a valid option, and arguably a preferable one in some cases, and Pope Francis is confirming that.

    The 2 or 3 years & *blup* – up to Heaven – is also a clear rebuttal to the question on his popularity and a gentle reminder to any overexuberant fans (as well as self) that though successor of St Peter & Supreme Pontiff, he will go the way of all flesh.

    So I think Fr Z is being overly dramatic in his interpretation.

  22. anna 6 says:

    I highly doubt that Pope Francis would live out his “retirement” in the same way as Benedict, who endured great suffering throughout his papacy and continues in his monk-like existence as the Emeritus Pope.

    As for Pope Francis’ predictions:

    “I don’t want to give interviews…I find them boring”.

  23. excalibur says:

    It isn’t their age, it is something much more. As we draw nearer to the 100th anniversary of Our Lady of Fatima’s request to consecrate Russia to her Immaculate Heart, the Prince of this world gets bolder. The late Father Malachi Martin mentioned the smoke of Satan inside the Vatican, and that grows ever more true I believe. And every week grows stronger, that affects the man at the top, the Pope; that is draining the Holy Father. If the Pope would simply comply with the Fatima request! One day it will be done, one day………..

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