Rumors circulated on social media on Sunday about Pope Francis following the steps of his predecessor, Pope Benedict VI, who resigned from the papacy.
The Associated Press reported that Pope Francis fueled speculations on the future of the papacy after announcing that he will be visiting this August the Italian city of L'Aquila in line with the feast of Pope Celestine V. The city was visited by Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI four years before he resigned from the papacy.
The Pope Besieged By Rumors
The Associated Press said the rumors heated up last week after Pope Francis appointed 21 new cardinals for a consistory scheduled this August. Of the 21 new cardinals, 16 are eligible to vote for a new pope should a conclave begin. The 16 new cardinals, once installed, would make up almost two-thirds (83) of the 132 voting-age cardinals. There is a great expectation that the cardinals would vote for someone who has the same pastoral priorities as Pope Francis'.
The announcement on the consistory, as per ABC News, further sparked the speculations because the pope announced he will be conducting a two-day briefing of the cardinals on his Vatican bureaucracy reforms embodied in his recent apostolic constitution, "Praedicate Evangelium." The apostolic constitution is a turnaround on how the Holy See operates as an institution, which now focuses on the service of local churches. The document also provides limits on the terms of Vatican employees who are priests and allows Vatican offices to be headed by women.
In addition, the timing of the consistory is said to be suspicious--"intriguing" as per Vatican Commentator Robert Mickens--because all essential business--including the Vatican--is closed from August to mid-September. The pastoral visit and consistory give symbolic importance that there is something more than ordinary business in the Pope's mind, NPR said.
These speculations are in the face of Pope Francis having growing mobility problems. The 85-year-old pontiff suffered a tear in his leg tendon three weeks ago and underwent surgery before his May 29 announcement on the new cardinals. This prohibited him from joining Queen Elizabeth's platinum jubilee celebration last Friday. The pope was in a wheelchair on Sunday's celebration of Pentecost, which was presided by a cardinal.
Pope Francis' Visit To L'Aquila
Last Saturday, the Vatican Press Office announced that the pastoral visit to L'Aquila will take place on August 28 and coincides with the two-day annual solemn rite of Forgiveness where a plenary indulgence is granted by the late Pope Celestine V to those who seek the Sacrament of Confession.
The pastoral visit intends to express the pope's closeness to the victims of L'Aquila's earthquake, which happened in 2009. L'Aquila Archbishop, Cardinal Giuseppe Petrocchi, said the city is still recovering from the ravaging effects of the earthquake, which includes the cathedral that is still closed to this day. Pope Francis is expected to be the first to open the Holy Door of Forgiveness, which has not been done in more than a century, during his visit.
Meanwhile, the consistory will simultaneously take place in the Vatican from August 27-29 based on the pontiff's request for the cardinals to reflect on "Praedicate Evangelium."
The Times highlighted that the unsourced rumors are a result of "gossipy Vatican insiders" who have "become fixated with the question of succession" in the papacy. The media outlet pointed out that the matter is really a battle of conservatives and liberals on Francis' papacy.