Rorate Caeli

Socci: "A Buzz in the Vatican: A Conclave is in the Air"


Antonio Socci
August 23, 2021

In the Vatican, there is an ever greater mention of a new Conclave. Pope Francis would in fact have expressed his intention to leave.

This December, among other things, he will turn 85, which is the same age as that of Benedict XVI at the time of his resignation. But the reason for Bergoglio's resignation would not primarily be his age, but the state of health that came under the spotlight in a sudden and unexpected way with his surgery, last July 4, at the Gemelli Hospital.

In reality, it seems it was not a planned intervention (it is said that even the Secretary of State, Card. Parolin, was not aware the hospitalization). Furthermore, it seems that the Gemelli doctors would have liked to keep the pope in the hospital longer.

For the media and the Vatican, the issue of the health of popes has always been problematic. The website "Il Sismografo" -- always defined as "Vatican-friendly" due to its closeness to parts of the Secretariat of State (it certainly shares Bergoglian positions), was the first to criticize the official Vatican media apparatus on this matter.

Already on 6 July, the director of the site, Luis Badilla, wrote: "The information that one decides to share through the media must be extremely transparent and extremely authoritative. If we are talking about medical releases, the text must bear the signature of the doctor or the team, with names and surnames; if several days of hospitalization are anticipated following the colon surgery, clinical support must be given to this claim. Journalists are there to ask questions and seek the greatest possible truth and not to just stand there as a microphone, otherwise the real facts cannot be distinguished from the journalistic hypotheses.”

The next day -- under the headline "Pope Francis does not need the sycophancy by way of the press" - Badilla rejoiced at the good progress of the Holy Father, but added: "However, there is the very significant detail that many in these hours underestimate, ignore or manipulate: the disease that has struck Pope Francis is severe and degenerative. It could also be chronic. Certainly the Holy Father will return to the Vatican to resume his journey in the footsteps of Peter, but he will never be the same again. All the rhetoric about a superman Jorge Mario Bergoglio damages his image and his charisma… He knows that he will have to change his life a lot: difficulties, rest, limitations, nutrition, rehabilitative physical therapy.”

One month after the procedure, Badilla noted that the press releases, "on the Pope's health conditions," have always been issued by the Vatican Press Office and, "have never been signed by doctors or by the Gemelli Polyclinic," adding that, "there remain open questions that were never submitted to the doctors who follow the Pope's health conditions, especially on the prognosis, which -- although never addressed -- remains confidential.”

So many questions for which even the site "Infovaticana" on 10 August titled: "La salud del Papa no es la que dicen" [The Pope's Health is not What It Is Told.]

That there may therefore be health problems (we all hope not serious) that induce the pope to consider a resignation is something more than likely.

Over the years, Pope Bergoglio has spoken several times in interviews of his possible resignation, but always as a hypothesis in the distant future. Today it seems to have become a present hypothesis. The first to speak of the "air of Conclave" was a long-time Vatican scholar like Sandro Magister who, on July 13, titled one of his articles in his very popular Blog: "Conclave in sight, all distancing themselves from Francis."

He did not deal with the pope's health, even though writing shortly after the operation, but he examined "twin books" that had just come out: "The Church Burns" and "The Lost Flock", both of which, Magister noted, "diagnose a bad state of health in the Church, with a clear deterioration precisely during the current pontificate."

Except that “their authors,” added the Vaticanist, “are not at all opponents of Pope Francis. The first book is signed by Andrea Riccardi, Church historian and founder of the Community of Sant'Egidio, much listened to by the pope, who often receives him in private audience and has entrusted him -- among other things -- with the direction of the spectacular interreligious summit chaired by the Francis himself last October 20 in the Capitol [Campidoglio]. While the second book is signed by a newborn association called 'Being Here', whose number one man is Giuseppe De Rita, 89, the founder of CENSIS and dean of Italian sociologists," as well as a progressive Catholic intellectual of the Montinian [Paul VI] period.

In the preceding weeks, strong criticism of Pope Bergoglio had already arrived from the lefty-Catholic world, due to some of his recent decisions. All contributing to the feeling of the end of a season.

However, Magister, in his article, underlined the repositioning underway not only by the Bergoglian intellectuals (to which the media could be added), but also by the cardinals considered closest to Francis: "the time has come to distance oneself from the reigning pope, if you aim to succeed him."

In fact, the general situation of the Church, which is dramatic, could also affect the decision to resign: it is sufficient to recall the conflicts with the German and American episcopates (the two Churches that bring in most donations to the Vatican), the bleak statistics on Catholic religious practice and vocations in recent years, the confusion that spreads among the faithful from a hierarchy that seems very distant from the clear and authoritative magisterium of the previous popes, and then the scandals, the dead end of the reforms of the Curia, the [criminal] procedure under way in the Vatican, the doctrinal controversies...

However -- for a pope who has always been extremely active like Bergoglio -- the problem of ill health has a heavy impact.

A week after the surgery, in the Argentine newspaper "La Nacion", close to the pope, a long article was published dedicated to the "difficult questions raised by the advanced age of Francis." The subtitle explained that, after the surgery, there was talk of possible resignation. According to the Argentine newspaper, "Vatican observers," believe, "unanimously that Francis is not close to resigning," but - we observe - this also happened on the eve of the resignation of Benedict XVI.

"I can't imagine Francis resigning while Benedict is still alive," said Christopher Bellitto, a papal historian at Kean University in Union, New Jersey. “Having a pope emeritus already creates confusion. Having two would end up complicating the picture."

However, this topic begins to be addressed in a "scientific" way by canonists and theologians who seem to prepare the ground for official provisions of the Holy See to define in detail all the cases relating to the Petrine ministry after Benedict XVI resigned and defined himself as "pope emeritus" (a completely new title in the history of the Church).


Canon lawyer Geraldina Boni has just published "A bill, the result of the collaboration of canon science, on the totally impeded Roman see and the resignation of the pope" so that "the supreme legislator can draw reasoned and well-argued ideas for the promulgation of legislation on these issues: legislation that now seems urgent and cannot be postponed ".

Why such urgency after eight years in which the problem of the coexistence of two popes seemed to be ignored by everyone? Perhaps precisely because there is the air of the new Conclave?

"La Nacion", after having assured that Pope Francis is well and that he is not about to resign, reports the thought of Alberto Melloni, Church historian and an intellectual symbol of lefty-Catholicism. According to Melloni, the pontificate of Pope Francis has now entered the final chapter: "When a pope gets old, we enter an unknown and uncertain territory." This does not mean, in his opinion, that Pope Bergoglio is necessarily on the eve of his resignation, but that by now the popes will no longer want to wait for a very advanced age and poor health to resign. According to Melloni, who sees the risk that the Vatican bureaucracy will take over, "if a pope wants to resign, he must find the right moment, before the weakness becomes too evident."

And Francis, in recent weeks, between the serious and the facetious, has told someone that next spring there could be a new pope.