Benedict resigned from the papacy in 2013 – and therefore took on the nickname emeritus – eight years after being elected by the College of Cardinals. The unexpected resignation came after Benoît cited a “lack of strength of mind and body” due to his age. He was 86 at the time. In doing so, he becomes the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415 and the first to do so on his own initiative since Celestine V in 1294.
It’s a series of symbolic events – including a canceled papal trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan scheduled for the first week of July, his recent use of a wheelchair to get around and events related to Celestine V and a central Italian town – which has led many Italian journalists to speculate on what Pope Francis might do next.
In the June 12 column in Crux by the ubiquitous Vatican watcher John L. Allen, Jr., connected the dots, as he always does, for the English-language press.
The resulting flurry of speculation – fueled by no source, anonymous or named – made headlines on websites around the world. Everything was based on observing and reading the tea leaves. Day after day, members of the GetReligion team came across stories online or received URLs from readers.
At a time when news organizations are increasingly aggregating stories from other places in order to garner clicks, this story has been reported everywhere. Additionally, smaller newsrooms, due to layoffs over the past two decades, have made it harder for reporters to confirm a story. In the case of Francis’ retirement, there was never anything to confirm.
In other words, such a story would never have been reported by so many outlets in the pre-internet era, when research and verification were a quality requirement in everyday journalism. These days, reporters attribute facts to vague sources and then move on. In this case, look for references to “Italian press reports” or “Twitter speculation”.
Francois is directed to Canada later in the month. Should he cancel that trip as well, it would be a sign that his knee condition is worsening, which will fuel more retirement speculation.
Let’s go back. That was the main takeaway from Allen’s post:
In between, he is planning a day trip on August 28 to L’Aquila in central Italy, about 75 miles northeast of Rome, where he will visit the tomb of Pope Celestine V, the last pope to voluntarily resign from office before Benedict XVI. Famously, Benedict XVI visited L’Aquila in 2009 and laid his papal stole at Celestine’s tomb, which, in hindsight, now seems a sort of foreshadowing of his decision to step down.
This context has sparked much speculation that Francis could use his meeting with the cardinals to announce his own resignation – and, of course, with a pope of surprises, anything is possible. Before getting carried away, however, three points are in order.
First, Francis travels to L’Aquila to open an annual jubilee of forgiveness known as the “Celestinian Pardon,” and for a pope whose motto is literally mercy, that’s no small feat.
Second, it will also bring comfort to the victims of the devastating 2009 earthquake that claimed 309 lives, and given Francis’ legendary concern for suffering, that’s reason enough for the trip, too.
Third, after Francis’ surgery last summer, he denied considering quitting in a Spanish radio interview.
“I don’t know where they got the idea from last week that I was about to quit!” he said. “They say it caused a stir, when it didn’t even occur to me.”
Pope Francis has publicly stated that he will not step down, but that has not stemmed speculation.
How far has this activity risen in the food chain of journalism?
The New York Timeslast week, had a story – “For Francis, a papacy complicated by the shadow of resignation— focusing on how all those resignation speeches cast a shadow over Francis’ papacy. This is how the room opened:
ROME- Over the past few weeks, watchful observers in the Roman Catholic Church have been carefully studying the shadows on the walls of the Vatican to prove that Pope Francis is about to retire.
They pointed to an unexpected decision to create new cardinals in August as a sign Francis, 85, was piling the college that will choose his successor ahead of an early exit. They read in depth about his planned visit to an Italian town linked to a medieval pope who called him. They saw the pope’s use of a wheelchair and his cancellation of a trip to Africa as evidence of the premature end of his papacy, despite the Vatican’s explanation of the healing of the right knee.
But in an interview published on Monday, Francis dispelled the rumours, calling the supposed evidence mere “coincidences” and telling Reuters the idea of resigning “never occurred to me”. For the moment no. For the moment no. Really.”
The only shadow that seemed real at the time was that cast by Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years. In doing so, he changed the nature and perception of the papacy from a lifelong mission assigned by the Holy Spirit to a more earthly vocation, subject to political pressures, health assessments and considerations of the best interests of the church.
For the Time team, the common thread remains Popes Benedict and Celestine. Here is the heart of what they reported:
During a 2009 visit to L’Aquila, which had been devastated by a recent earthquake, Benedict solemnly placed his pallium, the garment symbolizing his papal authority, on the tomb of Celestine V. In 2010, he returned nearby Sulmona, known for the sugar-coated almonds popular at Italian weddings and Vatican receptions, and again honored Celestine V as he prayed over her remains.
In 1294, Celestine issued a decree asserting a pope’s right to resign, and then acted on it. His successor imprisoned him and he later died in prison. Dante then placed him in hell for “the great refusal”. Unsurprisingly, no other pope took the name Celestine.
Benedict later told an interviewer that he had no thoughts of resigning at all when he visited the tomb, but it was on the mind in church gossip when the Vatican announced that Francis would celebrate the Mass on August 28 and would open the “holy door”. at the basilica housing the tomb of Celestine, whose example Benedict eventually followed.
The Time functionality was grafted onto a Reuters room in which Francis, in an interview, said he was not considering resigning.