Pope Francis has fueled rumors about the future of the papacy by announcing that he will visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August for a festival initiated by Pope Celestine V, one of the few pontiffs who resigned before Pope Benedict XVI left office. 2013.
Italian and Catholic media have published unsourced speculation that Francis, 85, may have plans to follow in Benedict’s footsteps given his growing mobility problems, which have forced him to use a wheelchair over the past month. These rumors gained momentum last week when Francis announced the creation of 21 new cardinals, which were scheduled to take place on August 27.
Sixteen of these cardinals are under the age of eighty and can vote at a secret meeting to choose Francis’ successor.
Once they join the ranks of church leaders, Francis will have added 83 of the 132 voting age cardinals. While there are no guarantees as to what these cardinals might vote for, the numbers increase the chances of choosing a successor who shares Francis’ pastoral priorities.
Announcing the August 27 council, Francis also announced that he would hold two-day meetings the following week to brief the cardinals on his recent Apostolic Constitution to reform the Vatican bureaucracy. The document, which takes effect on Sunday, allows women to preside over Vatican offices, puts limits on tenures for Vatican-serving chaplains and puts the Holy See as an institution at the service of local churches.