Is the Pope about to resign? Rumors swirl as pontiff postpones trip and takes unusual steps

Catholics around the world are watching some unusual activity at the Vatican closely as rumors persist that Pope Francis is preparing to step down.

Francis sparked speculation among church watchers after postponing a trip to Africa and announcing an unusual meeting of cardinals scheduled for later this summer, according to The daily mail.

The 85-year-old pontiff, head of the Roman Catholic Church with more than 1.2 billion followers, has been confined to a wheelchair due to nerve pain in his knee. He recently decided to delay trips planned for next month to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

According Newsweekthe announcement of the so-called “consistory” meeting of cardinals is unusual.

Robert Mickens, editor of the English edition of The crossa Catholic daily, said: “It is very strange to have a consistory in August. There is no reason that he should call this event three months in advance and then go to L’Aquila in the middle of it.”

The consistory will be held on August 27 and will create 21 new cardinals. Sixteen of those cardinals will be under 80 and will be able to elect Francis’ successor when a future conclave is called, according to The mail.

A “conclave” in the Roman Catholic Church is an assembly of cardinals to elect a new pope.

Francis, former Argentine Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, was elected pope in 2013 following the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI for health reasons.

The pope’s appointment of 83 new cardinals has some Vatican watchers wondering whether the move is intended to ensure that his reforms will “modernize” the Church.

Francis recently complained that traditionalist Catholics, especially in the United States, are “gaging” Church modernization reforms and insisted there was no turning back.

Traditionalists have become some of Francis’ fiercest critics, accusing him of heresy for his openness to divorced and civilly remarried Catholics, his outreach to gay Catholics, and other reforms. Francis took an increasingly hard line against them, reimposing restrictions on the celebration of the Old Mass in Latin and taking specific action in dioceses and religious orders where traditionalists resisted his reforms.

Among reforms to the overall administration of the Church, Francis supports allowing women to lead Vatican offices.

Even though the pope hasn’t officially announced his resignation, his planned appearance at a party in Italy suggests that’s what he’s about to do. Newsweek reports that Francis will travel to the town of L’Aquila for the “Feast of Pardon” which was inaugurated by Pope Celestine V, who abdicated in 1294.

The pope’s visit will also include a two-day meeting with cardinals to review his reforms.

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Still, Vatican insiders don’t believe Francis is preparing to step down, according to The mail.

A source told AFP: “In the pope’s entourage, the majority of people do not really believe in the possibility of a resignation.”

Rumors within the insular Roman Curia – the powerful governing body of the Catholic Church – are not new and are often fueled by interested people, Italian Vatican expert Marco Politi said.

“These rumors are encouraged by opponents of the pope who are just waiting to see Francis go,” he told AFP.

Francis is still scheduled to visit Canada at the end of July. As CBN News reported in April, he apologized to Indigenous people in Canada for the “deplorable” abuses they suffered at Catholic residential schools. At the time, he also said he hoped to travel to Canada this summer to apologize in person.

Radio-Canada News reports that the Pope will visit Canada July 24-29. It will make three main stops in Edmonton, Quebec and Iqaluit.

Archbishop Richard Smith, coordinator of the papal visit to Canada, told the outlet that the pope’s trip was limited to just three “hubs” due to the pope’s mobility issues.

“What’s really driving this is the pope’s limited ability to move around,” Smith said.

He said he expects Pope Francis to repeat the apology he made when visiting indigenous leaders in Rome.

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