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Is this the end of Pope Francis? The cruel pontiff is lining up a successor

Team Francis aren't popular in Rome (Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis/Getty Images)

Team Francis aren't popular in Rome (Alessandra Benedetti/Corbis/Getty Images)


June 9, 2022   5 mins

For well over a year, a nasty rumour has been floating through the Vatican that Pope Francis is terminally ill with cancer. I was told it was true by an Italian prelate in an apartment just a stone’s throw from the hostel where the 85-year-old pontiff is now pushed around in a wheelchair. A diplomatic source discussed it ruefully over an espresso in the Borgo Pio. A well-connected American traditionalist Catholic texted that it was “definitely true!” — the exclamation mark suggesting that he wasn’t too distressed.

Then, on Sunday morning, the Associated Press reported that “Italian and Catholic media have been rife with unsourced speculation that Francis might be planning to follow in Benedict’s footsteps” by resigning, “given his increased mobility problems”.

The reason for the speculation? The Pope has announced that in August he’s visiting the Italian city of Aquila, where he will pray at the tomb of Pope Celestine V, a hermit who resigned the papacy in 1294 after only five months. Benedict XVI also prayed at the tomb in 2009 — and in 2013 he became the first pope since Celestine to resign.

Moreover, Francis will travel to Aquila in the middle of a consistory at which he will create 16 cardinals who can vote in the next conclave, thus ensuring that 60% of the electors have been picked by him. This is called “stacking the deck” so that the next successor of St Peter is in your own image. Most popes do it, but very few with the partisan determination of Francis since he took office nine years ago. Also, he’s holding the consistory three months ahead of schedule.

The cancer story and the Aquila one aren’t mutually exclusive. If Francis is as ill as the rumour-mongers suggest — and I’ve heard gruesomely detailed descriptions of spreading tumours — then the August consistory and visit to Celestine’s tomb mean he can stage a dramatic exit immediately after his last opportunity to pack the college of cardinals.

The one thing the two rumours have in common is that no one has produced a shred of evidence to back them up. On Tuesday the Washington Post quoted a senior Vatican official “speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue” — i.e. Francis’s health. He said: “His situation isn’t brilliant, but it’s not enough to impose a resignation.”

However, in the same article Massimo Faggioli, a professor of theology at Villanova University, Philadelphia, said that: “What is clear is that his pontificate has entered his declining final stage… He is aware that he is approaching the end of his pontificate.”

That’s interesting, because Faggioli is an uber-loyalist. He’s one of the founding members of “Team Francis”, a group of journalists and other commentators whose near-deification of this pope wouldn’t be out of place in North Korea. Faggioli has made a career out of his laudatory analysis of Francis; many Catholics on Twitter tease him for it, at which point (and I speak from experience) he immediately blocks them.

“Declining final stage”? Francis doesn’t look like he’s dying: he’s just a fat man in a wheelchair. There’s nothing wrong with his faculties. He continues to charm visitors and, when it comes to internal church politics, he’s more vindictive than ever. (Giving a red hat to Bishop Robert McElroy of San Diego, a hardline liberal who favours giving Communion to pro-choice politicians, was a masterstroke of revenge against Francis’s least favourite people in the world: American conservative bishops.)

Perhaps “declining final stage” is just the sound of a worried Faggioli jumping ship while he still has time. As a Vatican diplomat puts it: “Common sense tells us that Pope Francis is nearer the end than the beginning of his time in office. Those people who talk about him as if he’s this great reformer who’s going to live for ever just look ridiculous. The new pope, whether he’s liberal or conservative, won’t be interested in their flattery.”

Team Francis aren’t popular in Rome these days. The best kept secret of this pontificate, at least so far as the general public in concerned, is that Jorge Bergoglio is not, and never has been, a nice man. He made so many enemies in Argentina that he hasn’t dared set foot in his native country since being elected pope. He was involved in some jaw-dropping scandals there, most shockingly his attempt to protect his child abuser ally Fr Julio Grassi from justice. He’s lucky that the Vatican press corps is too afraid of him to investigate them properly.

Francis has a streak of cruelty in him, and recently he’s done little to hide it. Last year his authoritarian attempt to crush regular celebrations of the traditional Latin Mass offended hundreds of bishops who don’t like that style of worship but dislike the Argentinian pontiff even more. They have quietly ignored the ruling, much to the fury of the papal liturgy chief, a painfully self-important Yorkshireman called Arthur Roche who will be made a cardinal in August.

But liturgical matters won’t loom large at the next conclave, whenever it is. Sexual morality will. Francis has spent nearly a decade casting doubt on the wisdom of Catholic teaching on divorce and homosexuality ­— but without making any formal changes to the rules. Never before will a conclave have been forced to debate such fundamental questions. And, up to a point, it will be operating in the dark. Francis has a policy of not summoning the cardinals to meet as a single body, which means many of them haven’t even met each other and don’t know who thinks what.

It’s likely, however, that the most contentious topic will be homosexuality, and this is where the labels “liberal” and “conservative” are misleading. Left-wing cardinals from the developing world, of whom Francis has created plenty, may countenance a more relaxed attitude towards divorced-and-remarried Catholics, but the thought of homosexuality turns their stomachs.

That may push them towards a moderate conservative such as Cardinal Péter Erdő of Hungary, a charming and self-effacing scholar who, when called upon to preside over a synod of bishops at the Vatican in 2014, suddenly looked and sounded like a pope. It certainly rules out Cardinal Jean-Claude Hollerich of Luxembourg, president of the European Conference of Bishops and a Jesuit thinker of far greater distinction than Pope Francis, who wants the Church to recognise gay relationships.

At the moment, however, all eyes are on Cardinal Matteo Zuppi, the rake-thin bicycling Archbishop of Bologna, 66, who is gay-friendly while unobtrusively sticking to the line that homosexual acts are sinful. That could be enough to satisfy the African cardinals. Zuppi’s political credentials are likely to help him: he’s associated with the centre-Left Sant’Egidio movement, which is obsessed with pulling strings — no bad thing during a conclave. He’s also nice to traditionalists: as a bishop he asked them to teach him how to celebrate the old Mass, and he hasn’t clamped down on it in his diocese.

But the smart money, as in most conclaves, will be on “none of the above”. Except on rare occasions, the number of ballots means the white smoke is followed by a murmur of surprise. But I’ll make one prediction. Bishops all over the world are sick of being bullied by the Vatican. The new pope won’t be a Francis II either in name or in his approach to governing the Church. When this pope goes, that mould will be broken, and there probably isn’t a single cardinal who wants to piece it together again.


Damian Thompson is a journalist and author

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John Wolfsberger
John Wolfsberger
1 year ago

I’ll settle for the next Pope being a Catholic instead of an apostate Marxist.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

I’m not sure that he’s an apostate Marxist – still signed up!

0 0
0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

He’s hardly a Marxist (as his history as a Jesuit here in Buenos Aires shows). He is a Corporativist along the line of the “Social Doctrine” Encyclicals dating from Leo XIII in 1890. This line of encyclicals was meant to combat Marxist unions back then. It later was used by Mussolini (who was not Marxist, I believe). Grassi was not under Bergoglio’s powers, since Bergoglio was bishop of Buenos Aires and Grassi was outside his diocese.
Bergoglio is loved in Argentina (though obviously not by all). He doesn’t come home because his visit would be politically used by the Kirchner government (some of whom he likes, others no). But his visit would be destructive.
The question of sexual matters: Bergoglio was opposed to homosexuality, but not to homosexuals (hate the sin, but love the sinner). As bishop of Buenos Aires he politically opposed generalized legislation on abortion (though of course he accepted the principal of double effect, where one had to choose between the life of the mother or that of the unborn child).
In general, it’s a hard time to be pope. I too have been critical of him. But in the Church issues are solved over the long run. It is base on Scripture and Tradition (not just traditions, nor short term fads). Time will tell

G F
G F
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

Mussolini was a marxist.

G F
G F
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

He was a Marxist.

Peter Scott
Peter Scott
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

Mussolini was not a Marxist; but he was a hard-left Socialist in the earlier part of his career when he directed and wrote for the “Avanti!” newspaper pre-WWI.

dan schnittker
dan schnittker
1 year ago
Reply to  Peter Scott

And how exactly is being a “hard left Socialist” not being a Marxist? Not a Commie. Ok, kinda. Both are supposedly stages of the bullshit dialectic. El Duce’s dying words – “Socialism forever”. Ka-bang.

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago
Reply to  0 0

I don’t know about “history as a Jesuit” speaking to whether he was a Marxist or not. On the whole, I think not.

0 0
0 0
1 year ago
Reply to  E. L. Herndon

But as an ex-Jesuit I do know. He had problems with fellow Jesuits (a well-known story here in Buenos Aires). I was of the theology of liberation (but in Peru). He was (and is) opposed.
Thomas Scheetz

Chuck Patterson
Chuck Patterson
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

I hope you are right Andrew. This pope disgust me. He is so wrong on a lot of levels and I pray that the Holy Spirit send us a better one. I don’t know why Francis was elected and it wasn’t the first time humans have denied the Spirit a good person. But I have faith God will undo all the misery and angst this terrible pope has done.

Ian Grattidge
Ian Grattidge
1 year ago

Where is Cardinal Sarah when we need him?

Bruvver Eccles
Bruvver Eccles
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Grattidge

If you had read the book you would have been able to see what Benedict’s contribution was. Roughly 1/3.

David Nebeský
David Nebeský
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruvver Eccles

Benedict’s text was tricked out by Sarah as a preface. Subsequently, Benedict XVI. distanced himself from the book.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
ER
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Grattidge

Where is Cardinal Sin for that matter?
Yes he did exist. he was Arch bishop of Manilla

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Ian Grattidge

Hopefully in a very demonic hell.

Alison C
Alison C
1 year ago

Not being attached to any kind of organised religion, I cant get too excited about the church’s internal politics. But I was shocked by the Pope straying into covid vaccine territory. He’s obviously qualified to speak on ethical matters but the ethics of getting vaccinated are trumped by scientific considerations in the first instance. You need to weigh up evidence of benefits to yourself, to others and also evidence of risk of being harmed and possible consequences. Given that the establishment has been criminally concealing anything that indicates ineffectiveness and harms, it’s been impossible to make an informed choice. If he thinks it’s his place to be making that decision for us I’m afraid he loses all credibility on that alone. It leaves me wondering what the connection between the Vatican and the World Economic Forum is. And if there are then they don’t get to pontificate to ordinary people on anything.

Simon South
Simon South
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison C

The ethical question regarding the vaccine came from the way it was created, in that it was formed from stem cells removed from aborted pheatus’ . There was a large debate and confusion amongst the faithful whether this meant it was appropriate to take the vaccine or was it condoning and accepting “sin”. The Australian Bishops were very proactive in leading the way in the public debate. The statements from the Vatican were aimed at providing assurance to “go ahead if you want to”. The alternative may have been many millions of people making the choice of vaccinate or not, without an informed perspective both from a scientific standpoint and an ethical and moral perspective.

dan schnittker
DS
dan schnittker
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison C

Dear Wondering: Steve Bannon’s WarRoom show or Canon212.com are good starting points to explore the Vatican’s deep connections to the New World Order, Great Reset, etc. Hint: The dudes running the show in Rome are pagan, commie queers apeing Catholicism in order to destroy it. Really.

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison C

I suppose believing in nonsensical conspiracy theories as you do is not that far from Catholicism.

Sue Sims
SS
Sue Sims
1 year ago

Well, if the fraudulence of that old chestnut* wasn’t already obvious, it would be clear from the horrible Latin grammar in your quotation (where do these people get their apocryphal information from?). ‘He has testicles’ would be ‘Testiculos habet’ (a monorchid pope would presumably evoke the cry ‘Testiculum habet!’)
*There isn’t a reputable historian in the entire world who believes the Pope Joan legend or that there was ever an ‘ancient ceremony’ such as you describe.

Jacques Rossat
Jacques Rossat
1 year ago
Reply to  Sue Sims

Don’t quibble about a latin mispelling. These legends are fun and lighten the dark impression this article and assorted comments give.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
AA
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Jacques Rossat

Thank you.
Had Ms Sue Sims not been such a pedant I was going to continue with the amusing tale of the post mortem trial of the petrifying corpse of Pope Formosus, almost a contemporary of the mythical Pope Joan of Bridport, Dorset herself.
Alternatively we might have discussed the whereabouts of the eighteen foreskins of Christ, the last one spotted as recently as 1968, but that will have to wait for another day.

Simon Flynn
Simon Flynn
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Good to see that you’ve risen well above the humourless gainsayers. Thank you.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Just waiting for the res-erection, no doubt

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Rather disappointed that as at 17.18 BST I’ve only managed a meagre 19 ‘thumbs down’, I anticipated at least 25.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Congratulations, you’ve made it! (as at 22.47 BST)

Last edited 1 year ago by Andrew D
ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Thanks, I missed it! I was already ‘tucked up’ with my Ovaltine.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Andrew D

Now at 21.22 BST+1 I see it’s up to a simply splendid 34!
Good old ‘God Botherers’ always rise to the bait.

David Nebeský
David Nebeský
1 year ago

The whole article could be summed up in one sentence: ‘The author does not like Pope Francis’.

Bruvver Eccles
BE
Bruvver Eccles
1 year ago
Reply to  David Nebeský

I think it’s more “Pope Francis hates Catholics”.

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Bruvver Eccles

You mean archconservative Catholics hate Pope Francis. If Pope Francis hates archconservative Catholics then good for him.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 year ago

Everything I have read or heard about Francis is consistent with him stacking the deck for an ideological successor. He was elected in a corrupt process and will go out in similar fashion. And covering for pedos is only part of it, in Argentina and then in Rome.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
1 year ago

Doesn’t god get a say in what the Catholic Church believes?

Simon Flynn
Simon Flynn
1 year ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

‘fraid not. In fact – au contraire! – the Catholic Church says what God believes!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Flynn

Glad to hear god believes something, and is therefore open to alternative ideas.

Marcia McGrail
Marcia McGrail
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Flynn

Lol!! Yes, indeed, the breathtaking hypocrisy of a church dictating to its leader. Move over, God – we know better than You, says the unrecalcitrant sinner posing as saint. A reworking of the phrase ‘thinking God’s thoughts after Him’. Not good form.

Burt Rutan
BR
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Simon Flynn

Perhaps then you are out of your milieu in the Catholic Church.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 year ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Used to but not since Benedict stepped down.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
1 year ago

Those countless schoolboys at my and the other Catholic public schools, molested by gay monks will have a view on this, and I thank God that my faith is strong enough that it has remained in place despite the widespread revelations…. Women and married priests would help to solve the problem: frankly I find the Church’s slavish worshipping of the sandaloid eco fascists nearly as bad… OK… worse!

Philip Burrell
Philip Burrell
1 year ago

Are you an Old Dowegian by any chance?

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
1 year ago

All closed organisations of men are or can be tricky – before I was a woman priest , (church of England,) I spent 20 years as a probation officer, 5 of them working with sex offenders.

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Alison Tyler

And then went on in the Anglican Church which as we Catholics know, lacks the Real Presence.

Barbara Sahlstrom
Barbara Sahlstrom
1 year ago

Thanks for sharing this. As always, very informative beyond the usual cautious comments offered by many other commentators.
Personally, I would love to see Cardinal Sarah as the next Pope. A very saintly man. Cardinal Raymond Burke, a very courageous and good ma man, is another favourite. But most probably not a choice since he is American.
Cardinal Erdö is a very good and faithful man as well.
Cardinal Zuppi is definitely not my cup of tea. He has been too pro homosexual, in my view.
Thank you and God bless!

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago

God help us, Sarah belongs in the flames of hell, not in the Vatican.

R Wright
R Wright
1 year ago

This man is the reason I never converted to Catholicism.

Burt Rutan
BR
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  R Wright

I’m sure you are the reason many converted to Catholicism.

Marcia McGrail
MM
Marcia McGrail
1 year ago

I hope so. Time to kill the old joke ‘is the pope a catholic?’

E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago
Reply to  Marcia McGrail

It’s actually the bear, who’s Catholic.

Mike Robinson
Mike Robinson
1 year ago
Reply to  E. L. Herndon

“Does the pope sh*t in the woods?”?

Jonathan Andrews
JA
Jonathan Andrews
1 year ago

I think Damian Thompson needs to stop sitting on the fence and tell us what he really thinks

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
1 year ago

That picture…
He looks every inch an uber-Don…

Marty Martins
MM
Marty Martins
1 year ago

Contrary to what the author purports, McElroy is a bishop NOT an archbishop.

dan schnittker
dan schnittker
1 year ago

Mr. Thompson is to be commended for hitting the high points like a good reporter. I wish he were not the exception. But he missed one “minor” detail. Bergoglio is not the pope. He has never been the pope. Benedict’s partial resignation was and is invalid. Benedict XVI is the pope. All acts, etc. of Bergoglio are null and void. Start there.

Robert Eagle
Robert Eagle
1 year ago

Surely that should be “testiculos habet”? Or do popes, like the late Fuhrer, only have one?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago
Reply to  Robert Eagle

Yes, correct, slovenly editing, guilty as charged.
Additionally Ms Sue Sims has very kindly preempted you with:
‘testiculum habet’ to cover Adolph’s alleged deficiency.

John O'Toole
JO
John O'Toole
1 year ago

DT writes really interesting articles + podcasts but I take what he says with a ‘pinch of salt’. 

Brian Gould
Brian Gould
1 year ago

In Damian Thompson’s article, what is this sentence supposed to mean? It looks to me like a mistake.

  • Also, he’s holding the consistory three months ahead of schedule.

Is there such a thing as a “schedule” for holding consistories? I don’t think so. This will be the eighth consistory of the present pontificate. Of the previous seven, two were held in February (2014 and 2015), two in June (2017 and 2018), one in October (2019), and two in November (2016 and 2020).
Maybe Damian Thompson meant to write “The consistory was announced three months in advance”, which is indeed unusual. In those earlier cases, Pope Francis announced them only about a month in advance, as far as I can recall without hunting through Vatican Press Office files.

E. L. Herndon
EH
E. L. Herndon
1 year ago

God works in mysterious ways. Leaving the Bishop of San Francisco (Cordileone) where he is needed, and appreciated, was a kindness, whereas the more polittical Bishop of Los Angeles will now have to swim with the sharks in the big league stained glass jungle, whence very few emerge “unspotted from the world”.

Jacques Dumon
Jacques Dumon
1 year ago

I was shocked with his encyclical “Laudato Si”: The Pope’s infallibility is limited to (catholic) Faith and Morals issues. The job he was elected for is to save souls, not to save the planet. End period.

Burt Rutan
Burt Rutan
1 year ago
Reply to  Jacques Dumon

If you had the slightest idea of Catholic theology you’d know that the Pope has to make an ‘ex cathedra’ statement for it to be infallible, which he did NOT do for Laudato Si. As far as I am aware there have only been two ‘ex cathedra’ statements in the history of the church, I could be wrong but I do know Laudato Si was not one.

Frances Mann
Frances Mann
1 year ago


I recommend the documentary film by Wim Wenders called Pope Francis a Man of his Word to learn about Pope Francis. It can be seen on Youtube

Last edited 1 year ago by Frances Mann
Oliver Nicholson
Oliver Nicholson
1 year ago

Perhaps the new wording would put ‘testiculos’ into the accusative and possibly even the plural ?

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago

Indeed!

ARNAUD ALMARIC
AA
ARNAUD ALMARIC
1 year ago

Why has the jocular discussion about the mythical 9th century Pope Joan been expunged, may I ask?

Robert Eagle
RE
Robert Eagle
1 year ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

If you want jokes, mate, keep away from discussions about religion and politics. The denizens deplore them.