June 8, 2022 (Steven O’Reilly) – [Update 6/9/2022] There has been some speculation of late that Pope Francis might resign at some point following the next consistory this August at which he will create a whole new group of cardinals. With these new cardinals, it is said that 65% of the Cardinals eligible to vote in the next conclave will have been appointed by Francis.
The resignation speculation is fed by rumors about Francis’ health, and his planned visit to L’Aquila (see What is the Meaning of Pope Francis’ Trip to L’Aquila?) which is oddly timed to occur during the consistory. A few years before his resignation, Pope Benedict XVI had visited L’Aquila and had placed his pallium on the tomb of Pope Celestine V, later understood to be a signal of his intent to later resign. Is Francis copying Benedict’s symbolic gesture? Some think it’s possible. I get the speculation…but I doubt it. Some are speculating one way or the other. Here are my speculations.
We know that Pope Francis went into the 2013 conclave with an agenda: irreversible change. This idea of Francis wanting to make “irreversible change” shows up in words of Fr. Adolfo Nicolas, former Superior General of the Jesuits, of whom Phil Lawler once wrote:
“Father Adolfo Nicolas, the former worldwide leader of the Jesuit order, reported that Pope Francis once told him that he hoped to remain as Pontiff until “the changes are irreversible” (see ‘The new cardinals: Pope Francis bids for ‘irreversible change’, Phil Lawler, September 3, 2019).
The question is, from Francis’ standpoint, has he sufficiently insured his changes are irreversible? It may now seem so. As of now, over 65% of the cardinals were appointed by Francis. These new cardinals, for the most part, seem to have been picked because they are Bergoglians, and are expected to vote that way in a conclave for a Bergoglianish-type figure.
However, while, it appears quite likely, if not probable, that the next conclave will produce a Pope Francis II, there may be at least a few unforeseen wild cards in the group of cardinals Francs has created. Further, who can say what sort of wheeling and dealing might go on in the next conclave, or whether it might produce someone unexpected as far as Francis’ expectations.
Francis knows his own election, dependent on cardinals created by Pope John Paul II and Benedict XVI, was not necessarily a sure thing, even with the dubious quality of many of them. Indeed, his own election required the aid of the St. Gallen mafia, his own campaigning, the help of an “influential Italian gentleman“, the help of McCarrick, and a suspiciously timed police raid that certainly appears to have hurt the election possibilities of his chief rival for the papacy, etc (NB: all discussed in The Conclave Chronicles). If such happy “coincidences” were necessary for his own election; will Francis leave it to chance that his favored candidate — i.e., one who he hopes will secure his “irreversible” legacy, and extend it — will be as ‘fortunate’ in the next conclave?
Surely, Francis is aware of the Demos letter currently circulating within the College of Cardinals (see here and here), and the grumbling about his pontificate. Certainly, as much of a prohibitive long shot as it would be, surely Pope Francis knows what might happen if, and it is a rather super-big if — against all odds — a Pope Pius XIII or Leo II were miraculously elected. Francis would not want that as his legacy after his death. As bad as that might be in his imaginings; it would be personally far worse if he retired and had to live through it!
In such a case of surprise-election of a Piux XIII or Leo II, Emeritus Francis might find himself hauled before the new Holiness and a Roman Synod that might not only question him on a host of subjects, e.g., Amoris Laetitia, the Scalfari interviews, Pachamama, etc., but would also “correct” him as well…to put it mildly.
Yes. Again. I am not suggesting there is any material chance of a Pius XIII or such a synod. But, conclaves can produce surprises. The point is, I don’t think Francis would take the risk, even as incredibly small as it now is, that the next conclave might produce a successor (1) that might reverse his “irreversible changes,” and (2) haul him before the new Roman Pontiff for judgment.
As negligible as these odds are, could Francis do more to improve them in his favor, whether he retires or not? It turns out the answer is “yes”. A horrid “yes.” There is something more Francis could do to virtually guarantee a successor along the lines he wants — at least as far as human agency goes (NB: I discussed this some last year in The Next Conclave: A Nightmare Scenario). Theoretically, Pope Francis could alter the laws governing papal conclaves by, for example, enacting new papal legislation for conclaves that would restrict the number of electors to a small, limited group of Cardinals.
There is something of a precedent for this going back to the time of Pope Nicholas II (see Here) when cardinal-bishops had a leading role in selecting the candidate for the papacy (see also the election of Pope Innocent II and the election controversy involving anti-pope Anacletus). So, theoretically, in hopes of making his reforms “irreversible,” Francis could restrict eligible Cardinal-electors to a trusted set of Cardinals, for example, perhaps those who sit on his Counsel of Cardinal Advisors, at one time totaling eight cardinals but now seven (last time I checked). Changing conclave rules to protect “reform” and “changes” is not new. Pope Paul VI changed the rules so that Cardinals over the age of 80 would be ineligible to vote in conclaves — thus removing a segment of the College of Cardinals potentially in opposition to the reforms of Vatican II. So, the precedents are there for some sort of mechanism to be constructed, should that be the route Francis decides to go.
Perhaps such a scenario is no more than a scary hypothetical. No more than an improbable nightmare scenario. Then again, this is the Pope who gave us Amoris Laetitia, Pachamama, the Abu Dhabi statement, the Scalfari interviews, Traditiones Custodes, and a host of other outrages. This is a Pope who wants “irreversible” change.
So, to conclude, I don’t believe Francis will resign. He will go on naming more and more Bergoglian-like cardinals in his remaining time to better secure his “irreversible change.” However, it would not surprise me if he made significant changes to the conclave in the time remaining to him. If that were to happen, that, for me, would increase the odds of a possible resignation.
Steven O’Reilly is a graduate of the University of Dallas and the Georgia Institute of Technology. A former intelligence officer, he and his wife, Margaret, live near Atlanta with their family. He has written apologetic articles and is author of Book I of the Pia Fidelis trilogy, The Two Kingdoms. (Follow on twitter at @fidelispia for updates). He asks for your prayers for his intentions. He can be contacted at StevenOReilly@AOL.com or StevenOReilly@ProtonMail.com (or follow on Twitter: @S_OReilly_USA or on GETTR, Parler, or Gab: @StevenOReilly).
- “Pius XIII” and “Leo II” was something of a mixed metaphor, one being a hypothetical name of a future pope, and the other a specific historical pope. Of course, above, “Pius XIII” is used to suggest a future pope of the ‘Pius’ type (e.g., XII, X, V). LEO II was the pope who condemned Pope Honorius for fostering heresy, writing in various places, for example, “And with them Honorius, who allowed the unspotted rule of Apostolic tradition, which he received from his predecessors, to be tarnished” and “With Honorius, who did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.” The suggestion here being, Francis would not want the “Honorius treatment” at the hands of another Leo II.
4 thoughts on “A Francis Resignation? Not likely, but…”
“Leo II”??? He reigned 1400 years ago.
Paul, thanks for the comment.
I was wondering who might catch the reference to Leo II. “Pius XIII” and “Leo II” was something of a mixed metaphor, one being a hypothetical name of a future pope, and the other a specific historical pope. Of course, in the article, I used “Pius XIII” to suggest a future pope of the Pius type (e.g., XII, X, V).
The unstated suggestion relative to the case of Francis with LEO II is that LEO II was the pope who condemned Pope Honorius for fostering heresy, e.g., “And with them Honorius, who allowed the unspotted rule of Apostolic tradition, which he received from his predecessors, to be tarnished” and “With Honorius, who did not, as became the Apostolic authority, extinguish the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by his negligence.”
Ok, you clarified the Leo II confusion; the clarification should have been mentioned in the text.
Bindiana, thanks for the comment. There is a case to be made for that. My original thought was not to make it so obvious in the text. You may be right though. Perhaps I’ll go back and add a footnote.