In the past year, rumors have swirled in Rome that Pope Francis may soon retire, and in the past few days, those rumors have accelerated. The 85-year-old’s frail health is one reason for the speculation. In recent weeks, he has been confined to a wheelchair due to debilitating knee pain.
He also reportedly struggles to stand due to his sciatica. The “Woke Pope” recently cancelled a trip to Africa scheduled for next month due to his knee ailment, “raising questions about his ability to walk during the rest of his papacy,” according to Reuters.
Since his surgery for diverticulitis last year, Vatican reporters have allegedly been on “conclave watch.”
The rumors gained steam earlier this month when Francis announced a council of cardinals to create 21 new cardinals on Aug. 27.
Sixteen of those cardinals are under age 80 and eligible to vote in a conclave to elect Francis’ successor.
Once they are added to the ranks of princes of the church, Francis will have stacked the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 voting-age cardinals. While there is no guarantee how the cardinals might vote, the chances that they will tap a successor who shares Francis’ pastoral priorities become ever greater.
In announcing the Aug. 27 consistory, Francis also announced he would host two days of talks the following week to brief the cardinals about his recent apostolic constitution reforming the Vatican bureaucracy. That document, which goes into effect Sunday, allows women to head Vatican offices, imposes term limits on priestly Vatican employees and positions the Holy See as an institution at the service of local churches, rather than vice versa.
Holding a consistory in August is considered highly unusual because that is a month when traditionally nothing happens in Rome due to people being on holiday.
Francis is also scheduled to visit to L’Aquila, Italy to open the Jubilee of Forgiveness on August 28. The jubilee was initiated in 1294 by Pope Celestine V, who renounced the papacy later that year. Pope Benedict XVI visited the grave of Celestine just before announcing his retirement in February of 2013, in what many Vatican observers considered a symbolic gesture.
On Monday, journalists reported seeing “unusual activity” going on at the Vatican.
Journalist Megyn Kelly just happened to be in Rome on vacation as rumors about the Pope’s impending retirement were reaching a crescendo.
“Inside the Vatican, just moments ago, we saw a ton of Cardinals, which our guide tells us is highly unusual. They’re not used to seeing that. That’s not normal,” Kelly said in a video she posted on Twitter. “Moments earlier, when we were in the Sistine Chapel, a priest or a bishop came in and gave us a blessing—also highly unusual—what was he doing there? Why was he doing that? What did he know?” she added. “There’s a lotta buzz going on here,” Kelly concluded.
Unusual activity at the Vatican as reports break that Pope Francis may be about to resign. (And we are there!) pic.twitter.com/P2AetNECH1
— Megyn Kelly (@megynkelly) June 20, 2022