The keys to the (non) resignation of Pope Francis

Many would like it to go away, but, for the moment, the Pope stays. This same Monday, just two days after returning from an intense trip to Canada, in which he normalized the image of a pontiff in a wheelchair, the Vatican confirmed that Francis will travel to Kazakhstan in mid-September – flying over Ukrainian and Russian territory. , throwing away the information that pointed to an early resignation of Bergoglio.

A march for which he was asked, up to four times, at the traditional press conference back in Rome. "The door is open, it is a normal option, but until today I have not knocked on this door, I have not said that I am going to this room, I have not heard of this possibility. But that does not mean that the day after tomorrow I will not think right? But right now, honestly, I don't know," the pope replied.

"I think that at my age and with this limitation, I have to save a little to be able to serve the Church or, on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside. This in all honesty: it is not a catastrophe, it is he can change his Pope, no problem!" Bergoglio stressed, in what many interpreted as an announcement that he would shortly submit his resignation.

Theories of the papal resignation, supported by the alleged fragility of the pope's health –although he only has mobility problems due to an injured knee– were reinforced, and came to point to an immediate date: August 28, the moment in which that Francis will visit L'Aquila, an Italian town affected by an earthquake in 2009 and where the remains of Celestine V are preserved, the last Pope, before Benedict XVI, to resign the pontificate. What Francisco will not do is go through the operating room for his leg: "Before I resign!" He came to say, laughing, to the media.

As for the journey announced this Monday by Kazakhstan, the most direct and usually used route, between Rome and Nur-Sultan (capital of the Central Asian country), crosses Ukrainian and Russian airspace. It is a historical custom that the pontiffs send telegrams to the heads of state of all the countries they fly over. This allows Francis to send telegrams to Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin. It can be a diplomatic challenge or an occasion to call, directly and officially, for a "stop and negotiate", as Bergoglio pointed out this Sunday.

The papal agenda belies exit plans. Just the day after being in L'Aquila, on August 29, the Pope has summoned all the cardinals of the world, in an unprecedented meeting –the closest thing to a conclave, apart from the election of the Bishop of Rome–, in the one that will ask them for advice on how to face the synodal process in which the Church is immersed, and which will last, in its theoretical phase, at least until the end of 2023.

He also plans to explain to them the keys to the reform of the Curia, which came into force on June 5. Beyond being able to see each other's faces and discuss the future of the Church, no cardinal will go to Rome in those days with the feeling of the end of the pontificate. Quite the contrary, as the coordinator of the Council of Cardinals, Cardinal Maradiaga, pointed out to "We are not facing the end of a pontificate, but rather a new stage." A stage that will obviously be marked by the Pope's health, but also by the results of the synodal consultation and the possible moral changeschanges in celibacy or in greater responsibilities of women and laity in the government of the Church.

Nor is it the first time that Francis has spoken of his possible resignation, if necessary. In fact, last month, in an interview with the Reuters agency, the Pope indicated that "it never" crossed his mind to resign. "Not at the moment, not at the moment. Really!" Bergoglio pointed out, who did reiterate, as he had done on other occasions, that he would resign if his health prevented him from leading the Church, something that for the moment, it hasn't happened.

What this Pope has done is to normalize the historical event that led to the resignation of Benedict XVI, announced on February 11, 2013 and which became effective on the 28th of that month. "I think that Benedict XVI is not a unique case. We will see him as someone who opened a door, the door of the Pope Emeritus," Francis said in May 2014, thus opening himself to the possibility of resigning, if necessary.

In some other interview, he has underlined his desire, if he retires, not to remain in Rome, but to return to Buenos Aires. Father Ángel's NGO, Mensajeros de la Paz, has reserved a room for him in a residence in the Argentine capital, since before he was named Pope.

What does seem clear is that Francis, barring manifest incapacity, will not resign while Benedict XVI is alive. The 95-year-old Pope Emeritus resides in a monastery within the Vatican walls and, although his health seems increasingly weak (he has not been seen in public for a long time, and his personal secretary, Georg Gänswein, wept a few weeks ago when talk about how "the light of his life was slowly going out"), a situation in which three popes coexist is not foreseen.

Yes, Francis wants, within the reform movement, to regulate the figure of the Pope Emeritus, which is not reflected in Canon Law. Ratzinger's resignation caught the Curia so off guard that he had to accept, on the run, that Benedict XVI would continue to be called that, could continue to wear white and call himself Pope Emeritus. Bergoglio's wish, on the other hand, is that the norm be to speak of the Bishop of Rome emeritus, in order to separate the political and geostrategic function of the Papacy from the merely pastoral function of the episcopate. And avoid future problems, as happened in the Middle Ages, with various popes declaring themselves the only true ones.

Be that as it may, Francis' "open door" to his resignation is nothing more than the natural response of an 85-year-old person, who knows that he is not exactly in the spring of life. But, except for a major surprise, there is still Pope Francis for a while. Too bad for some, who from the beginning branded Ratzinger's resignation as "invalid", considering that a Pope, like John Paul II did (whose agony, for months, was televised live), has to die sitting on the Peter's chair, and considering, for this and other (more ideological) reasons, that Bergoglio has never really been the Pope.

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