Pope Francis’ 80th year of life. Will he resign? Fr. Z speculates.

Left-leaning Crux has a piece from left-leaning AP’s left-leaning Nicole Winfield about Pope Francis’ entering his 80th year of life (his 79th birthday is today, 17 December – Happy Birthday, Holy Father… maybe take a few weeks off?  Maybe?).

The AP piece details some of the criticism that the Holy Father has earned in the last couple of years.

I am reminded of speculation about the possibility that Francis might, like Benedict, resign, perhaps when he turns 80 next year.

A lot of people ask me if I think Pope Francis will resign.

As with most of what this Pope does… who knows? Maybe. He has hinted at it.

Were he to resign, I don’t think it would be at his 80th birthday. There is another, more likely scenario.

This Pope is very interested in Aparecida, both Our Lady of Aparecida of 12 October 1517, and the CELAM document issued after the big meeting there in 2007. The document of CELAM from Aparecida, and those from other meetings, seem greatly to have influenced Pope Francis.  (Of course 13 October 2017 will be the 100th anniversary of the final Fatima apparition and the “miracle of the sun.”)

So, were Francis to resign, I suspect that he would wait until the centenary of Aparecida in 2017 (a couple months before he turns 81). He would want to attend that ceremony as Pope. He would then return to Rome and, after the New Year of 2018, he would resign, after Epiphany, when Popes often consecrate bishops.

That would be my guess, were he really thinking about resigning.

In any event, were he to resign, it wouldn’t come like a bolt of lightning out of the blue, as it did with Pope Benedict.  What a day that was.

“But Father! But Father!”, some of you self-absorbed promethean neo-pelagian lefties are ululating, “Do you want Pope to resign? You DO, don’t you!  That’s because you are mean and he’s the first Pope who has ever smiled! He’s the first Pope who has ever kissed a baby.  He is the first Pope ever to be nice to anyone! Before him there was no mercy in the Church. He’s the most wondefullest, fluffiest Pope, ehvur, and you hate Vatican II!”

A lot of people also ask me that.  Honestly, I don’t know.   I have serious concerns about having two retired Popes aroundmuch less one!  I also suppose it would make a huge difference what he does between now and his hypothetical resignation.  You never know.  He could still surprise us all.

In general Popes should not resign.  At least ideally, they should die in office.  On the other hand, in this age of modern medicine, it is possible to keep people alive long after they are sui compos.   Every Pope must now fear that and the inevitable power vacuum it would create. Resignation (or sudden death) would be better than the years-long death of a Pope who cannot rule in any way.  But that depends on the Pope!  Look at the example of life that St. John Paul gave us in his long-suffering to the end.

The years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away. Ps 90:10

Popes change because of resignation (rare) and death (99.9%) either by natural causes or by murder.  Many of the early Popes were murdered, martyred, by enemies of Christianity.  Some later Popes were murdered too.  The way things are going today, it doesn’t tax the imagination much to posit assassination attempts against this Pope by Muslims. HERE The enemies of Christianity are on the rise.  And who and where are the biggest targets of all Christianity?  The Pope and Rome.

It’s horrid to think about, but we have to be smart and attentive and consider this possibility, not just for the Pope, but other Church leaders too.

Imagine were that – quod Deus avertat – to take place!  Were some Islamist plot to take out the Holy Father… would that galvanize the West to act in regard to Islamic jihad?  I’ll bet it would.  Martyr this super-visible, populist Pope?  The mind reels at the possible fall out.   I actually have the start of a novel that includes this scenario.  It’s about a fictional Pope, of course.  Two large trucks hurtle up the Via della Conciliazione during a General Audience. The Pope refuses to suspend audiences even in the face of credible threats.  The first truck takes out the barriers.  The second, with its enormous explosive load and hundreds of thousands of projectiles, smashes through the crowds like a ball through pins past the obelisk to detonate on the sacrato of the Basilica. Each day the conditions in the world are more and more resembling the scenario I first sketched out a few years back (yes, before this pontificate was even dreamt of).

Were Francis to resign while still relatively healthy for an octogenarian and at the height of his popularity then… what? Return to Argentina?  He would be a really interesting figure to watch, on the loose in the world, wouldn’t he!  ¡Hagan lío!

Whether he resigns or not is up to him in dialogue with his Maker. As I have written before, resign or not resign, this pontificate, like all others, is a parenthesis in God’s plan for us and His Church.  Most of us reading this will outlive Pope Francis and see more Popes in the years to come, unless Our Lord has some other plan.

Maranatha!  Veni et noli tardare!

That said, were Francis to resign sooner rather than later, I would be able to resuscitate the “REELECT BENEDICT” swag in my Cafe Press store! HERE and reassemble the Committee to Re-Elect The Pope.

So long as this Pope is the Pope, pray for him daily.  And please add a prayer also for Pope Benedict.

The moderation queue is, of course, ON.  Don’t bother writing anything if your intent is simply to bash Pope Francis.  I don’t want that here.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Adaquano says:

    I suppose given his birthday it is interesting to speculate given the rumors he would resign at 80. It would be at the end of the Year of Mercy in some ways feels like the culmination of his beliefs and attitudes. Still, I’d rather remain vigilant regarding my own reign in this world. I’ll keep praying that Pope Francis is protected by God and is guided by the spirit. And I anticipate drinking Mystic Monk coffee from a reelect Benedict mug

  2. Netmilsmom says:

    Isn’t the 100th anniversary of Fatima in 2017 too?

    [Yes, indeed! The anniversaries are 1 day apart, too!]

  3. majuscule says:

    Happy Birthday, Holy Father… maybe take a few weeks off? Maybe?.

    …but make it a staycation…or at least don’t fly anywhere and give interviews on the plane…

  4. The Bear does not think it is necessarily a bad thing for elderly popes to slow down, talk less, and let the Church reflect upon their papacies. Especially after a tornado pontificate like we are currently living through. Resignation is inconsistent with the role of “papa.” If a pope is absolutely incapacitated mentally or physically, what then? Is there even a mechanism to deal with that? Resignation before absolute incapacitation would make sense, but not at some arbitrary age. Why, Pope Francis could be dispensing joy and mercy for another 20 years!

  5. marnold says:

    I want home to in office and its not because I’m a secret leftist or something. The church needs stability and that is not achieved when my number of Popes is higher than car I’ve owned. If he chooses to retire, I hope the conclave picks someone who is young and healthy. And I pray to God that he loves the TLM as much as I do.

  6. Andrew D says:

    I am praying daily now that he will resign. Nothing personal and I do pray for him (his health, safety and well being) daily but for the sake of souls, we need a shepherd who will un-apologetically preach and defend the Church and ALL of the Church’s teachings. That’s not happening now. May God Bless Pope Francis and if it be within God’s Will, may we have a new holy father (and I stress the word holy) to shepherd us through this increasingly evil Valley of Tears.

  7. dawnmaria says:

    Prophesy: Pope Francis will never resign.

  8. Polycarpio says:

    I for one love Pope Francis. But if he resigns, by all means, reelect Pope Benedict! “X more years!”

  9. organistjason says:

    “Resign or not resign, this pontificate, like all others, is a parenthesis in God’s plan for us and His Church.” May God the Father hit the “Shift” key and close parenthesis…….in a timely manner, according to His plan, for Holy Mother Church.

    “Lord God, You are our Eternal Shepherd and Guide. In Your mercy grant Your Church a shepherd who will walk in Your ways and whose watchful care will bring us Your blessing. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

  10. Mariana2 says:

    Two retired Popes would look like carelessness.

    But ‘Re-elect Pope Benedict’ would be great. Or elect Archbishop Gänswein, young and orthodox and able to kick bum.

  11. donato2 says:

    My assessment of the chance that Pope Francis will ever resign, barring any serious incapacitation: 0%. We all better prepare ourselves to be scolded for many years to come.

  12. MarylandBill says:

    I have no strong opinions about whether Pope Francis should resign in the near future, but I think Pope Benedict gave us an awesome example of humility when he resigned. I doubt there is a harder calling in the world than to be Pope, even if one is well disposed towards it and enjoys it. By resigning, Pope Benedict showed us that just as the Patriarch of a family might have to step back and let one of his sons take over as active head of the family, so might the Pope. If Francis feels like he might be in state of decline where he can no longer lead the church, he should step back.

  13. pmullane says:

    The other contributing factor to a papal resignation is likely to be ‘events’. Even if the Pope had in his own mind a firm timetable of abdication on ‘x’ date, or if indeed he was determined in his own mind that he would die in office, so many things can happen that may influence his decision one way or another. Benedicts gift was to allow a Pope to be able to resign, rather than to trudge along in vain, the wrong man for the job in an office he cannot exercise. The other edge of that coin, sadly, is that men can now purposefully agitate for the resignation of a Pope (St Gallen!) rather than wistfully dreaming of their demise.

    For me, I think some things ‘have to happen’ before the end of this papacy. Pope Francis is popular in the secular eye, unfortunately mostly because he is seen as an enemy of the traditions of the Church. Similarly, he is popular with Catholics who disagree with the Church on the usual topics, again as he is seen as ‘one of them’. Had Francis died before the 2014 Synod I fear that the College of Cardinals may have felt they had to elect another Francis in his place. After the two Synods I think this pressure has been somewhat dissipated, and like the 2005 Conclave (which was grateful for the long and fruitful pontificate of St JP II, but after such a long pontificate felt it did not ‘need’ to elect a younger man, thanks be to God) the next conclave may not feel the need to elect such whirlwind ‘reformer’, or a Jesuit, or whatever it is that Francis is. The more Francis introduces problems that dont need solving (Married Priests, ‘decentralisiation’), and the more the tensions in the Church fray, the more likely the next conclave will elect someone who is more quiet, modest, and conciliatory.

  14. Semper Gumby says:

    Well now, two trucks racing up the VdC…you have my attention Fr. Z. We could use more Catholic-friendly action-adventure novels. For what it’s worth, here’s a few elements: an Islamist occult group (see jinns) launches a diabolical bio attack (see Richard Preston’s Demon in the Freezer). This group uses gene editing (see CRISPR) to disable human immune systems.

    And I agree, as a general rule, popes should not resign.

  15. Benedict Joseph says:

    He should resign and I know he will never resign. Never.

  16. Toan says:

    I wonder whether Pope Francis would resign, or whether he would put himself in increasingly dangerous situations until someone does the unthinkable. I suppose he could do both: Resign and then put himself somewhere extremely dangerous.

    As Fr. Z pointed out, just try to imagine what Pope Francis would do if he were to resign. Can anyone imagine Pope Francis voluntarily withdrawing as Pope Benedict has?

  17. Facta Non Verba says:

    I do worry that ISIS will try to murder the Holy Father. Do the Swiss Guards have anything other than those big swords to defend him? I would like to think that the Pope has at least similar protection as the Secret Service protecting POTUS.

  18. vandalia says:

    To add a bit more to some of the points you touched on, I think the critical point is “two retired Popes.” If Pope Benedict were to die, I think that would greatly increase the chances that Pope Francis would consider retirement. There is also a critical distinction with Pope Saint John Paul II: Despite physical weakness, I don’t think anyone would suggest that he was not mentally sharp until almost the very end. Although physically healthier, I think Pope Benedict was very much beaten down in mind and spirit when he retired. One of the attributes that is sometimes forgotten about Pope Saint John Paul II was that he was tough in a way that almost no prelate (outside of possibly Vietnam or China) is today.

    With that said, I really think the decision for a Pope to retire is very simple. He must ask “Can I still do the job?” If a decade from now, Pope Francis still thinks he can do the job to his standards, he will still be Pope. If tomorrow he feels he cannot, he will retire. I tend to discount suggestions that there is any grand plan.

    I also agree that the next resignation (whenever it is) will not be a surprise. I suspect that in retrospect there were many clues that people around Pope Benedict simply failed to recognize. The decision to resign was simply not something that anyone would have considered possible. Now, with that on the table, everyone is looking for the smallest signs, and someone is likely to guess correctly – even though it will likely be surrounded by 1,000 incorrect predictions.

  19. Robbie says:

    This topic pops up from time to time and it’s relatively easy to understand why. The Pope is elderly, suffers from several ailments (missing part of a lung), and has even hinted he might prefer retirement at some point. And since he clearly seems to think the papacy is best suited for an evangelizer who travels the world, it’s not hard to imagine he’d retire when he can no longer do what he has done these last few years.

    All that said, my guess is the Pope will never resign simply to resign. Now if he becomes seriously ill or mentally incapacitated, that’s something different. However, I don’t see him as one who would prefer a life of solitude and prayer as Benedict has. He’s a doer and wants to do things. On top of that, I think he wants to alter the Church’s course and there aren’t enough men in the College who can ensure that will continue with the next pope, at least not yet.

    Honestly, I think it’s more likely Francis is the pope when he’s 90 than he resigns in a year or two. And just as a general principle, I prefer popes who serve until death.

  20. Pam68 says:

    I sit here with tears in my eyes at the thought of Papa Benedict and the possibility of his coming back. But my brothers and sisters, how many of you are in your 80’s? I am not quite 70, but my body, with its various problems, is much older. In 2017, he would be what?? — 90 years old?

    Did you see him at the opening of the Holy Door? So very frail-looking, a man on each side of him guarding and protecting him as he took little birdlike steps through that door. Was his physical decline in the later years because of natural progression of age, or could it be that the immense spiritual burdens he had to bear had much to do with it? Mind, body, soul – all interconnected in mysterious ways we cannot comprehend. Maybe the wolves of which he spoke were just too much in light of his age and the countless duties required of the office.

    Since there are so many theories and questions surrounding his resignation, and since we just do not know the truth of the situation, I like to think of it all in this way: When I see rare pictures of him, sitting in a garden or whatever, I look at his face and what I see there is a holy man who loves the Lord and the Church with all his heart. I see light and I see a quiet peace, but also suffering and sorrow. Perhaps he could have gone to his brother and had some peace and quiet. Perhaps he stayed to be a witness, and to pray in reparation for and suffer for the Body of Christ.

  21. Mr. Graves says:

    “One of the attributes that is sometimes forgotten about Pope Saint John Paul II was that he was tough in a way that almost no prelate (outside of possibly Vietnam or China) is today.”

    Spot on. Also worth noting (not my original thought, although I don’t recall where I read it) is that JP II had around him very holy, orthodox priests/advisors to pinch hit; Benedict likely couldn’t have completely trusted his in the event of a slip-up.

    Count me in the “not a fan of Francis” camp who, all the same, hopes he doesn’t retire. It is unseemly to keep stacking up Popes Emiritus.

  22. Mr. Graves says:

    Two errors in one day? Apologies! Should read Popes Emeritus. “Emiritus” must be Latin for “doesn’t proofread.”

  23. sirmaab says:

    Dear Father Z:

    Please alert us upon the completion of aforementioned novel!

  24. Mike Morrow says:

    “It is unseemly to keep stacking up Popes Emeritus.”


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