Pope Francis’ health, canceled trip drives rumors about retirement

Pope Francis’ recent health problems, worsening mobility problems and canceled events have driven rumors that the leader of the Catholic Church is following in the footsteps of his predecessor into early retirement.

Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected to the papacy in March 2013, after Pope Benedict XVI retired at the age of 85, becoming the first pope to do so since Gregory XII in 1415.

Now some Vatican observers believe that 85-year-old Francis may be the other – even though the pope’s adviser has brushed off the talk.

Cardinal Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga claimed the retirement rumors as nothing more than “cheap soap opera”, according to Religious News Service.

The Holy See has so far given no indication that the pope intends to relinquish the throne of St. Peter, instead of dying in office – as has been the custom for the vast majority of bishops in Rome.

Nevertheless, speculation about a possible dismissal has been swirling for months.

In July last year, the Argentine-born pope had the left part of his colon removed during a three-hour operation because his bowel had become narrower.

Pope Francis’ recent health problems and failing mobility have led to rumors that he is planning to retire.
AP Photo / Gregorio Borgia, fil

Since then, his health has been in apparent decline, and in the past month, Francis has been confined to a wheelchair, or using a cane, due to knee pain.

The eight-year-old prelate reportedly does not want to undergo knee surgery – and was quoted as saying to the bishops in May: “Instead of operating, I will retire.”

Francis has been open about his struggles, and said in his general audience speech last week that the elderly must accept their physical limitations.

“When we are old, we can not 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 also have to use a walking stick now.”

Pope Francis is pushed in a wheelchair during a Vatican event on June 18, 2022.
Pope Francis is pushed in a wheelchair at a Vatican event on June 18, 2022.
Vatican Media / IPA via ZUMA Press

The bishop of Rome also suffers from sciatica, which made him limp even before the knee problem arose.

One week before the pope’s remarks about old age, the Vatican canceled a planned July trip to Africa, citing his health problems.

The rumor mill about Francis’ possible retirement life went into overdrive when he planned a meeting with cardinals in L’Aquila in central Italy at the end of August.

Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, resigned in 2013.
Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, resigned in 2013.
Sven Hoppe / Pool via REUTERS

The occasion will mark what is known as the “Feast of Forgiveness”, which was established by Pope Celestine V in 1294 – the same year that the 13th century pope withdrew from the Holy See.

The celebration will begin on August 28 – a day after Francis will appoint 21 new cardinals, who will be eligible to vote in a conclave if he decides to step down from the papacy.

Popes are elected by the College of Cardinals, which is called to the Vatican for a meeting, followed by the papal election or the conclave.

Before Francis’ predecessor, Benedict XVI, shocked the world by announcing his resignation in 2013 after eight years in power, he visited Celestine’s tomb at the Basilica of Santa Maria di Collemaggio in L’Aquila.

Benedict, who became known as “Pope Emeritus” after retiring, continues to live in the Vatican City. At the age of 95, he is the longest-living person who has held the office of pope.