Benedict’s death clears path for Pope Francis to retire of old age in future – Reuters
VATICAN CITY, Jan 3 (Reuters) – Six months ago Pope Francis brushed off speculation he was about to resign due to health problems, but even if he had toyed with the idea, he faced one major obstacle: there was already another ex-pope in retirement.
The death on Saturday of Benedict, who in 2013 became the first pontiff in 600 years to step down instead of reigning for life, should make any decision to step down easier on Francis and the Church, which has struggled enough with having “two popes”, let alone three – two retired and one reigning.
It could also prompt the current pontiff to review what happens to future popes who decide to shuffle away from office because of old age rather than holding on until they die.
Francis is now 86, one year older than Benedict was when he retired. Despite needing a cane and a wheelchair, he shows no sign of slowing down. Trips are planned for Africa this month and Portugal in August.
He has made it clear that he would not hesitate to step down someday if his mental or physical health impeded him from leading the 1.3 billion-member Church.
In an interview with Reuters on July 2, he dismissed rumours of imminent resignation. “It never entered my mind,” he said, also denying rumours among diplomats that he had cancer.
The previous month, the Catholic media world and some secular outlets were caught up in a frenzy of unsubstantiated reports and frivolous tweets speculating he would be out within a few months.