The Pope was on retreat this pastweek, which is a good reminder to all of us, clerical and lay, that we do need time out and time away, in order to reflect on what really matters in our lives – that is, our relationship with God – and to refresh our spiritual lives.
Perhaps that is why the Pope went to Ariccia, some
miles from Rome, a place where he was to be insulated from the usual
pressures of life in the Vatican and “living over the shop”.
That may have been especially welcome at that moment.
If recent reports,
originating with the Italian journalist Antonio Socci, are to be
believed – and presumably Socci has well-placed sources – the Vatican is
currently a hotbed of intrigue.
In particular, according to the Socci
story, there is a plot afoot to persuade the 80-year-old Pontiff to resign.
It is not a wholly implausible story.
The resignation of Pope
Benedict, only the second papal resignation in recent history,
introduced the possibility that a future Pope might at some time or
another be expected to follow suit.
Now that dying in office is no
longer de rigueur, it follows that resignation is a possible, even the
likely end, of every papacy.
Moreover, because the Pope can now retire,
there will be people who think that he therefore should, even must,
retire, at some point.
The fact that this “plot” has leaked could mean one of two things.
could be that the feeling the Pope should retire is now so widespread,
that it cannot be kept secret – in other words there are too many people
in on the plot.
But it could mean something else entirely, namely that
the plotters are very few in number and are airing their idea to see if
it gains traction.
Their idea might be to launch a snowball that then
turns into an avalanche in the way of which nothing can stand.
We don’t know what the reaction to this idea is in the corridors of
power, which is the only reaction that counts. But the reaction
elsewhere has been muted.
There has been no horrified response by all
and sundry saying that the Pope must not under any circumstances resign.
Resignation has been mooted and Catholics have by and large shrugged.
This seems to indicate that the idea per se is not to be ruled out, but
is rather something we can all live with.
So the question is not whether
Pope Francis should resign, but when he should choose to do so.
real question is one of timing.
Needless to say, no one has the power to force a papal resignation,
except perhaps the papal doctors.
It is up to the Pope alone, and a
resignation, to be valid, must be freely chosen. (One could imagine a
medical team judging a pope, any pope, no longer capable of fulfilling
his duties – which would be an interesting scenario for canon lawyers.)
But the Pope is free to do as he likes in this matter, and must remain
free to do so. To lose that freedom would be a serious curtailment of
the papal power.
Is the plot a real plot?
In that certain people have gathered over
their cappuccinos and discussed it, yes; that a delegation will form and
go to the Pope telling him to go, as has been the fate of several
British prime ministers, I doubt it.
The precedent that that would
create is simply too dangerous.
And Pope Francis shows no sign of giving
up, or even slowing down.
He has, however, been a Pope of surprises,
and may surprise us all again.