Having foreshadowed that Pope Benedict XVI would become the first Pope in 600 years to resign, Tim Fischer predicts Pope Francis will follow the same course and leave his post within the decade.
The former deputy prime minister in the Howard government (1996-1999) is more qualified than most to have a view on the Pope’s reign, having spent three years as Australia’s first resident ambassador in the Vatican, rubbing shoulders with some “impressive” cardinals who “spoke several languages before breakfast,” as well as having conversations with Pope Benedict.
While internal Church business was “not my business,” the devout Catholic recalled chatting with Pope Benedict in the aftermath of the devastating Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.
“Coming from Bavaria where everything is so green, he couldn’t understand how nearly 180 people could be burnt to death in a modern state like Victoria. He was really upset by this and wanted to get his mind around that.”
In Adelaide last month as guest speaker at the 50th anniversary celebrations for the Anglican Centre in Rome, the Akubra-wearing author and farmer said there was a “drumbeat of change” at the Vatican and he was watching with interest how events would unfold in the coming years.
Appointed by then prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, Mr Fischer was sent to Rome to “build relations and linkages” between the Australian government and the government of the Holy See, but primarily to win support from the influential Latin American ambassadors for Australia’s bid for a seat on the United Nations Security Council.
Aside from official diplomatic business, Mr Fischer managed to pursue his life-long love of railways.
“I did stir up the Vatican and gain permission to operate the first steam train this century from the Pope’s platform to Orvieto and back, which was called the Caritas Express,” he explained.
Today, an electric train runs every Saturday from the Vatican station to Castel Gandolfo, the Pope’s summer palace.
He is also proud of the part he played in instigating the restoration of three ornate carriages of the first papal train, which are now on display in the Vatican Museum.