Giulio Napolitano /

Less than a month after the death of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, rumors are arising of Vatican conservatives working to force Pope Francis’s resignation. According to the Italian newspaper La Stampa, conservatives are ready to move against the Pope due to his more liberal leanings, including his criticisms against capitalism, his criticisms of the Latin Mass, and his blasé attitude towards gay marriage and abortion. La Stampa stated it had spoken to an archbishop with knowledge of the situation, who stated, “The secret plan will be formulated on various axes and phases, but it will have one objective – to place the pontificate under such stress that Francis will have to resign. The opponents of Francis know that right now they are in the minority, that they will need time to both win a consensus and to weaken [him].” The plan would involve criticism of Pope Francis’s “doctrinal choices” to create “discontent.” 

The report comes on the heels of the release of Archbishop Georg Gänswein book, Nothing But the Truth: My Life Beside Pope Benedict XVI, which paints Pope Francis in a poor light and accuses him of being cruel to Benedict while the two lived in the Vatican. Gänswein, who spent the last 19 years as Benedict’s personal secretary, accuses Francis of essentially firing him in 2020, telling Gänswein not to return to the office and instead to care for the ailing Benedict. The book also prints private letters and conversations between the two pontificates, showing a less-than-peaceful relationship. Gänswein has also been very critical of Pope Francis’s decision to limit the Latin Mass. 

Apart from conservative discontent with Pope Francis’s decisions, the pontificate’s health also remains an issue. The Pope has had increasing mobility issues. Last June, he alluded to the possibility of stepping down. Sitting in a wheelchair due to continuous knee trouble, the Pope told a group of journalists in Canada, “It is not a catastrophe to change Pope. It is not a taboo. The door [to retiring] is open – it is a normal option. But until today, I have not knocked on that door. I have not felt the need to think about this possibility – that is not to say that in two days’ time, I might not start thinking about it.” The Pope also recently revealed that he has already signed a resignation letter in case of the deterioration of his health. “I have already signed my renunciation. The Secretary of State at the time was Tarcisio Bertone. I signed it and said: ‘If I should become impaired for medical reasons or whatever, here is my renunciation,’” the Pope is reported to have said. Tarcisio Bertone has since retired, and the Pope stated he does not know who has the letter now. 

If Pope Francis were to step down, it would be an extremely rare occurrence, with Pope Emeritus Benedict’s unexpected resignation in 2013 being the first instance in 600 years. Pope Benedict’s resignation was a massive shock to the Catholic world and has caused the Church to rethink ways to make the resignations of pontiffs less earth-shattering. According to a Reuters report, “Now that longer life spans have made papal resignations no longer unthinkable, there have been repeated calls from Church leaders to regulate the role of former pontiffs, in part because of the confusion stemming wrought by two men wearing white living in the Vatican.

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