Pope fuels rumours in sermon on 'the virtue of stepping aside'

Pope Francis fuels rumours he may quit in sermon reflecting on ‘the virtue of stepping aside at the right time’ and ‘learning to take our leave’

  • In the Sunday Angelus, Pope Francis spoke on leaving roles at the right moment
  • Only his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, has renounced the position since 1415
  • Speculation grows that Francis may resign amid rumours of internal pressures

In an address on Sunday, Pope Francis added to growing rumours he might abdicate from the position with a sermon on the ‘virtue of stepping aside at the right time’.

Pope Francis previously stated he would step down from the role if his health deteriorated but has dismissed general speculation, otherwise fuelled by apparent conflict within the church.

During the Sunday Angelus, a Catholic prayer the Pope often leads on Sundays and holy days, the Pontiff said: ‘It is easy to become attached to roles and positions, to the need to be esteemed, recognised and rewarded.’

He continued: ‘It is good for us too to cultivate, like [Saint] John [the Baptist], the virtue of setting ourselves aside at the right moment, bearing witness that the point of reference of life is Jesus. 

‘To step aside, to learn to take one’s leave: I have completed this mission, I have had this meeting, I will step aside and leave room to the Lord. To learn to step aside, not to take something for ourselves in recompense.’

Pope Francis addressed crowds during the Sunday Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s square

People listening to the Pope’s weekly Angelus prayer on Sunday 15 January in the Vatican City

Pope Francis during the Angelus prayer in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City, 15 January 2023

Francis addresses a crowd during his Angelus prayer from the window of the apostolic palace

The Sunday Angelus is a regular prayer led by the Pope, who first gives a reflection on the Gospel of the Sunday and then leads the faithful in prayer from the window of his study overlooking Saint Peter’s Square.

Pressure has been mounting against the current Pope from conservative factions of the church, who see Pope Francis as more liberal than his predecessor.  

The Telegraph reported last week it was unlikely Pope Francis would step down while Pope Benedict XVI was alive.

This was to avoid an unprecedented situation where three Popes were living in the Vatican at one time. 

The former pope died on New Year’s Eve, 2022.

Mourners gathered in St Peter’s Square for Pope Benedict XVI’s two-hour long ceremony

Cardinals from around the world pictured in attendance of the late Pope’s funeral in January 

Pope Francis speaks with members of The Pope John XXIII Community Association in January

Pope Francis greets the faithful from a wheelchair at a meeting in Vatican City in January 2023

Five popes have ‘verifiably’ renounced the position through history, with others disputed.

The most recent was Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013 and said he was motivated by his declining health due to old age.

Pope Benedict XVI was the first pope to renounce the position in 598 years, since Gregory XII resigned to end the Western Schism in the Catholic church.

Contemporary popes are generally expected to hold the position until their death.

The new precedent has flared rumours that Pope Francis may too at some point renounce the position.

In December, the current Pope revealed he had already signed a resignation letter years ago to take effect should be become ‘impaired’ by health issues or an accident.

Further speculation grew last year after the Pontiff visited the Italian city of L’Aquila, associated with Pope Celestine V who resigned in 1294 and only since visited by Pope Benedict XVI, who resigned in 2013.  

Pope Francis, born Jorge Mario Bergoglio, nonetheless dismissed reports he would renounce the position in July last year.

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