“Whoever holds educational or leadership positions must learn to serve without expecting anything in return, and then to step aside in order to make room for others.” This “little sentence” pronounced by Francis during the Sunday Angelus, 10 days after the funeral of Benedict XVI, relaunched discussions about a possible resignation of the Argentine pontiff.
On January 15, in St. Peter's Square, the Pope was even insistent, taking the example of St. John the Baptist who “opens the door to Christ and goes away.” And to emphasize further: “Put yourself aside, learn to say goodbye: I have done this mission; I step aside and leave room for the Lord.’”
Nevertheless, as Domenico Agasso, Vaticanist for La Stampa, notes, if rumors of resignations will punctuate the last part of the “Argentine reign” - rumors supported by a diminished physical state - within the sacred rooms, on the other hand, no one is betting on the imminent departure of the current successor of Peter.
In other words, no future conclave is on the horizon, and the papal agenda purposely divulged by the Vatican press office confirms this: apostolic trips scheduled in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, opening WYD in August 2023 in Portugal, an ecumenical vigil scheduled for September 30, 2023 for the synod, etc.
But there are also trips being planned to Marseilles, Hungary, Mongolia, India, and Lebanon: in other words, the pope's wheelchair is likely to be in high demand in the months to come, especially since he “governs himself with his head, not with his knee,” as the host of St. Martha’s House recently reminded us.
So, if the departure of the Argentine Pontiff is not something to be considered in the coming months, all the same we do already know the contours – thanks to the person concerned himself – of a possible “after Francis.”
After his resignation, the Francis explained that he would bear the title of “Bishop of Rome emeritus”; he would not wear a white cassock; he would not live in the Vatican, nor would he return to Argentina. Rather, he would stay in Rome and look for a church where people could confess and console the sick.
We can also see this as a way of taking the opposite view from his predecessor, who remained cloistered in the Mater Ecclesiae Monastery, sheltered behind the high leonine walls.
And if his words at the January 15 Angelus did not evoke the possibility of a resignation, but were in fact addressed to the opponents of the Roman pontiff who no longer have a job in the Curia and who continue to “expose themselves against the Pope or to spread anti-Bergoglio poisons,” in preparation for the next conclave?
One immediately thinks of Cardinal Ludwig Müller, whose book with a program for the next pontificate is to be published in a few days. One also thinks of Msgr. Georg Gänswein, Benedict XVI’s former secretary – and still prefect of the pontifical household “on leave” – whose last work, a book that is quite critical of the current Pope, seems to have sealed his future.
But if the current Pontiff’s cane should still resound for many months on the marble pavement of the Sala Regia, there is no doubt that, in Rome, the great maneuvers of the next conclave have already begun.