Pope Francis’ recent health problems, worsening mobility problems and canceled events have fueled rumors that the head of the Catholic Church is about to follow his predecessor into early retirement.
Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected Pope in March 2013, after Pope Benedict XVI resigns at age 85becoming the first pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415.
Now some Vatican observers believe the 85-year-old Francis could come second, though the pope’s adviser has brushed off the chatter.
Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga dismissed the rumors of retirement as nothing more than a ‘cheap soap opera’. according to the religious news service.
The Holy See has so far given no indication that the Pope intends to give up the throne of St. Peter, rather than die in office – as was the custom for the vast majority of Rome’s bishops.
However, speculation about a possible layoff has been circulating for months.
Last July, the Argentina-born Pope had the left part of his colon removed? during a three-hour surgery because his bowel was narrowed.
Since then his health has clearly deteriorated and for the past month Francis has been moving around in a wheelchair or using a cane, because of knee pain†
The octogenarian prelate reportedly does not want surgery on his knee and told bishops in May: “Instead of operating, I will resign.”
Francis has been open about his struggles, saying in his general speech last week that the elderly must accept their physical limitations.
“When we’re old, we can’t do the same things we did when we were young: the body has a different pace and we have to listen to the body and accept its limits,” he said. “We have them all. I too now have to use a walking stick.”
The bishop of Rome also suffers from sciatica, which caused him to limp before the knee problem started.
A week before the pope’s comments about old age, the Vatican canceled a planned trip to Africa in July due to his health concerns.
The rumor mill surrounding Francis’ possible retirement took off when he organized a meeting of cardinals in L’Aquila in central Italy in late August.
The occasion will mark what is known as the “Feast of Forgiveness,” which was instituted by Pope Celestine V in 1294 — the same year the 13th-century pope resigned from the Holy See.
The celebrations will begin on August 28 — a day after Francis is scheduled to appoint 21 new cardinals, who will be eligible to vote in a conclave if he decides to leave the papacy.
Popes are elected by the College of Cardinals, who are called to the Vatican for a meeting, followed by the papal election or conclave.
Before Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, shocked the world by announcing his retirement in 2013 after eight years in power, he visited Celestine’s tomb in the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila.
Benedict, who became known as ‘Pope Emeritus’ after his resignation, continues to live in Vatican City. At 95, he is the longest-lived person to hold the office of Pope.