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If one thing jumps out about the papacy of Pope Francis, it’s this: it feels like its been so much longer than two years. Francis ascended to the papacy in March 2013, and following the far more conservative Benedict XVI, people all over the world wondered who the new representative of the Catholic faith would turn out to be. And now, the man himself thinks that the Church could be asking all those same questions again pretty soon — Pope Francis expects a short tenure of “four or five years,” he said in an interview with Mexican outlet Televisa.
If that sounds like altogether too short a run, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that Pope isn’t a job getting landed by many people in their mid-30s. Historically speaking there may have been a few extremely young ones, but in the modern era it’s an old man’s game, and that trend continued with Francis. He was already 76 years old when he was elected, so if he were indeed Pope for just four or five years, he’d be 80 or 81 — about four years short of the age that Benedict XVI stepped down.
Old enough, certainly, for anyone to start thinking about their own mortality, and their desire to spend all their days representing a billions-strong faith. Francis seems aware of this feeling — as noted by ABC News, he described his feeling that “the Lord has placed me here for a short time” as being like “a gambler who convinces himself he will lose so he won’t be disappointed.”
In other words, who knows, right? It’s clear that the concept of papal retirement is something Francis is in full support of, however. He also praised Benedict XVI’s decision to step down on his own terms at age 85, calling it courageous to Televisa.
I am in favor of what Benedict did I think what Benedict so courageously did was to open the door to the popes emeritus. Benedict should not be considered an exception, but an institution.
Of course, this raises an obvious question. If Francis were to opt to ride off into the sunset, who would take his place? One thing’s for sure, it’s unlikely you’d get a second Pope in a row with as many reformist tendencies as Francis, nor one who’d somehow land on the cover of LGBT magazine The Advocate as their Person Of The Year.
But beyond that, the simple answer is that it’s impossible to say without being wildly speculative. The process by which the Papal conclave decides on these things is notoriously opaque, with Cardinals sealing themselves out of public view for as long as the decision takes. It’s enough of a high-profile guessing game, in fact, that you can even place bets on who the next Pope will be, a fact I somehow suspect doesn’t thrill the Vatican. (Also, Pope Francis’ election was a big upset by the betting odds.)
Whatever ends up happening, it’s altogether possible we’ll end up missing Pope Francis once he’s gone. Even if you still have objections to his views and statements (and there’s plenty to object to), it’s hard to deny that his comparative humility and occasionally compassionate rhetoric go far beyond what anyone could’ve anticipated at the end of the Benedict XVI era, and you could easily imagine things backtracking after he’s gone.
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