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Catholic Culture Solidarity

Another papal resignation on the horizon?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Aug 18, 2015

Karl Keating, the founder of Catholic Answers, raises an interesting question: A New Pope in 2016? This is not a prediction, he emphasizes; it’s a sort of mental exercise.

Pope Francis has referred to the resignation of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, as “a beautiful gesture of nobility, of humility and courage,” Keating reminds readers. Last year the Pontiff told reporters that he expected his own pontificate “will last a short time: two or three years.” In 2016, he will have been Pope for three years.

(It is not clear whether Pope Francis meant to say that he would serve for a total of 2-3 years, or for 2-3 years past the time when he made that statement in 2014, which was already one year into his papacy. But even if he meant the latter, Keating observes, “Two years from 2014 is 2016.”)

But that’s not the only reason why Keating wonders if 2016 could bring another papal resignation. Pope Francis, he recalls, was elected with the expectation that he would bring reform to the Vatican. He has certainly changed the public image of the papacy, and under the guidance Cardinal Pell, the Vatican’s finances have finally been brought under rational control. But as for the Roman Curia, Keating judges: “Two-and-a-half years into Francis’s papacy, not much seems to have changed.”

Pope Francis, Keating writes, is very clearly committed to seeing the completion of the work the Synod of Bishops has undertaken, on the pastoral care of families. The Synod will meet in October, and its work—culminating in a papal document—will presumably be finished next year. The Holy Father is also committed to structural reforms in the Roman Curia; it’s quite possible that the Council of Cardinals will be ready with final proposals for that reform by next year, too. If so, at that point the most important items on the Pope’s to-do list would be done; his desk would be relatively clean.

Still Keating has another, more provocative reason to wonder about the possibility of a papal resignation. Pope Benedict stepped down when he became convinced that he no longer had the strength necessary to fulfill his mission. Keating foresees a time when Pope Francis will also conclude that he cannot do what needs to be done. In fact, he (Keating) wonders whether that time may already have arrived:

I think that by this time Francis understands that, however successful he has been in terms of image, he has not had as much success in terms of teaching, nor has he had as much success in terms of reorganization of the Vatican machinery.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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