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Benedict’s death paves the way for Pope Francis to retire in the future

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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – Six months ago Pope Francis brushed aside speculation that he was about to step down due to ill health, but even though he toyed with the idea, he faced a major hurdle: There was already another ex retired dad.

The Saturday death of Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pope in 600 years to resign rather than reign for life, should make any decision to resign easier for Francis and for the Church, which has fought hard enough to have “two popes.” . let alone three: two retired and one in office.

It could also prompt the current pontiff to review what happens to future popes who decide to abandon office due to old age rather than resist to the death.

Francis is now 86, a year older than Benedict when he retired. Though he needs a cane and a wheelchair, he shows no sign of slowing down. Trips are planned to Africa this month and to Portugal in August.

He made it clear that he would not hesitate to step down one day if his mental or physical health prevented him from leading the 1.3 billion-member Church.

In an interview with RockedBuzz via Reuters on July 2, he dismissed rumors of an impending resignation. “It never occurred to me,” he said, also denying rumors among diplomats that he had cancer.

The previous month, the Catholic media world and some secular media had been gripped by a frenzy of baseless reports and frivolous tweets speculating it would be out within months.

But as the 10th anniversary of his election approaches in March, and in four years the ninth decade of his life, the chances of his resignation will increase.

Ecclesiastical law says that a pope can resign but the decision must be made without external pressure, a precaution that dates back to the centuries when European rulers influenced the papacy.


Now that life extensions have made papal resignations no longer unthinkable, there have been repeated calls from church leaders to regulate the role of former popes, in part because of the confusion caused by two men dressed in white who live in the Vatican.

Francis told a Spanish newspaper last month that he does not intend to define the legal status of popes emeritus, although he has previously privately indicated that a Vatican dicastery could write such rules.

Australian Cardinal George Pell, a conservative close to Benedict, wrote that while a retired pontiff might retain the title of “pope emeritus”, he should revert to being a cardinal, and be known as “cardinal (surname), pope emeritus”.

Pell also said a former pontiff shouldn’t wear white, as Benedict XVI did, telling RockedBuzz via Reuters in a 2020 interview that it was important for Catholics to be clear that “there is only one pope.”

Academicians and canon lawyers from the Italian University of Bologna who have studied the question say that the Church cannot even risk the appearance of having “two heads or two kings” and have proposed a series of rules.

They say a former pope should not revert to being a cardinal, as Pell proposes, but be called “Bishop Emeritus of Rome.”

Francis told RockedBuzz via Reuters in July that’s exactly what he’d like to be called.

In that case there may be no need for new legislation, it would then be subject to existing rules affecting retired bishops.

Current legislation provides that bishops emeritus “avoid any attitude and relationship that could even only allude to a sort of authority parallel to that of the diocesan bishop, with harmful consequences for pastoral life and the unity of the diocesan community”.

Though retired, Benedict wrote, gave interviews, and unwittingly or unwittingly became a lightning rod for opponents of Pope Francis, both on doctrinal grounds and because they were loath to give up the clerical privileges the new pope wanted to dismantle.

Francis told RockedBuzz via Reuters he would not stay at the Vatican or return to his native Argentina but would live modestly in a home for retired priests in the Italian capital “because it is my diocese”. He said he wished he was near a large church so he could spend his last days listening to confessions.

(Report by Philip Pullella; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

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