Vatican City.- The fragile state of health of the Pope Franciscowho postponed his trip to Africa, fuels rumors of a possible resignation, but experts warn against taking it for granted.
His visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and South Sudan, scheduled for the beginning of July, was postponed indefinitely, and many wonder if he will be able to make it to Canada at the end of that month, after being seen wincing during some appearances. public.
The Vatican says the trip to Canada will stay “until further notice.”
Since the beginning of May, the 85-year-old Pope has used a wheelchair or a cane, weakened by severe pain in his right knee.
To alleviate it, Francis regularly receives injections and physiotherapy sessions, according to the Vatican, which is keeping a low profile about his health.
The treatment “follows its course and is bearing fruit,” says a Vatican source. However, these rare last-minute changes to the Holy See’s agenda have reignited concerns about the ability of Jorge bergoglio to govern and have sparked rumors of a possible resignation.
This theory “returns in a cyclical way”, analyzes the Italian Vaticanist Marco Politi, author of the book “Francis, the plague and the Renaissance”.
“These rumors are fueled by the Pope’s opponents who only want to see Francis leave,” he says.
In 2014, the pontiff himself contributed to fueling the hypothesis, considering that Benedict XVI had “opened a door” by resigning from office.
Some experts nuance the possibility of a next exit. “In the pope’s entourage, most do not believe much in the possibility of a resignation,” a Vatican source told AFP.
“From the moment it begins to be said that the Pope is very ill, many years can pass: John Paul II’s illness began in 1993 and ended in 2005,” recalls Alberto Melloni, historian of Christianity and secretary of the Foundation of Religious Sciences.
“These are things in which there is a desire to understand, to speculate, but there is little to say,” he added, lamenting an “excessive media frenzy around the Pope and the Church.”
Francis’s state of health had already fueled speculation when he underwent colon surgery in July 2021. The Pontiff suffers from chronic sciatica and had to remove part of a lung in his youth.
“Under John Paul II, the progress of the disease was very visible, there were questions for years” and “there was also often false news,” recalls Father Federico Lombardi, former director of the Holy See press office.
“With Benedict XVI, it was rather the weakness of age that progressed and led him to resign, gradually,” he adds, referring to the pope emeritus, now 95 and living in a Vatican monastery.
Consistory at the end of August
In September 2021, Francis — who continues to receive political or religious leaders every morning — had ironized about the rumours. I’m still “alive though some want me dead,” he said at the time.
But three events fuel the rumors, including the August 27 consistory that will appoint new cardinals, including future electors in the event of a conclave, a very unusual time for this event.
The Pope will then gather the world’s cardinals in Rome and visit the tomb of Celestine V, the first pontiff to resign in the 13th century, in L’Aquila.
This unprecedented conjunction intrigues the Italian and international press and some see it as an opportunity for the Pope to announce his decision.
But “for now, it’s about being realistic and not alarmist,” says Marco Politi. According to him, this meeting could also be a simple “moment for general discussion on the reform of the Curia”, the Vatican government, made official by the entry into force of a new “Constitution” at the beginning of June.
Another central issue for Francis is the World Synod of Bishops, a broad consultation on the organization of the Church that will end in 2023.
This event “is almost a mini-council: so it seems difficult to imagine that the Pope wants to leave half this great project that he himself has decided,” says Politi, who also points out the difficulty of having three popes in the Vatican.