Pope Francis celebrated his 85th birthday on Friday, an even more striking milestone given the coronavirus pandemic, the intestinal surgery he underwent in the summer, and the weight of history: his predecessor retired at his age, and the last pope to the longest lived was Leo XIII, a century ago.
Still, Francisco is still going strong and recently wrapped up a quick trip to Cyprus and Greece following tours he took this year in defiance of the pandemic, which took him to Iraq, Slovakia and Hungary. He has launched an unprecedented two-year consultation process among the Catholic faithful to bring the Church closer to the laity, and he does not appear to be slowing down his campaign to make the post-pandemic world a fraternal place where lay people are prioritized. poor, with a fairer and more environmentally friendly economy.
“I see a lot of energy”Said the Reverend Antonio Spadaro, one of the Jesuit communicators who have the confidence of Francisco. “What we see is the natural expression, the fruit of the seeds that it has planted”.
But Francis is also surrounded by troubles at home and abroad and faces continued opposition from the conservative Catholic right. In response, the pope has adopted a less affable tone.
After spending the first eight years of his papacy gently trying to persuade church leaders to embrace financial prudence and responsible governance, Francis moved to firmer measures and seems determined to stick to that line.
Since his last birthday, Francis has ordered a 10% reduction in the salary of all cardinals and reduced the salaries of Vatican employees to a lesser extent, in an attempt to reduce the budget deficit of 50 million euros (US $ 57 million) of the Vatican. To combat corruption, it imposed a cap of 40 euros (US $ 45) on gifts to Holy See personnel.
He also passed a law allowing cardinals and bishops to be tried by the Vatican’s lay court, setting the stage for the next trial of his former adviser, Cardinal Angelo Becciu, accused of financial crimes.
He hasn’t made many new friends outside of the Vatican, either. In 2019 he passed a law outlining how cardinals and bishops could be investigated for covering up sexual abuse, and in the past year nearly a dozen Polish bishops have been removed.
Francis also approved term limits for leaders of lay Catholic movements to try to curb abuses of power, which led to the forced removal of influential Church leaders. He recently accepted the resignation of the Archbishop of Paris after a media scandal about lack of personal decorum and administration.
“In the past year, Pope Francis has accelerated his reform efforts by putting real force on the Church’s canon law as it pertains to finances.”Said Reverend Robert Gahl, director of the Ecclesiastical Management Program at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross.
“As they celebrate his birthday, experts in the Vatican are also looking for more concrete indications of compliance with the pope’s new rules, especially from those in the Vatican who answer directly to him.”He said in an email. In addition to the new rules and regulations, he noted, a culture change is needed.
Despite Francis’ strict measures, on Friday he received a birthday applause from the cardinals, bishops and priests who joined him in the morning for an Advent prayer.
But if there was one thing Francis did in the last year that upset his critics, it was his decision in July to revoke the directives of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and restore restrictions on the celebration of Mass in Latin.
Francis said his measure was necessary because Benedict’s decision in 2007 to liberalize the celebration of the old rite had divided the Church and had been taken advantage of by conservatives. “Some wanted me deadFrancisco said of his critics.
Speaking to his Jesuit colleagues in Slovakia in September, Francis said he knew that his 10-day stay in a hospital for a surgery in which 33 centimeters (about 13 inches) of his large intestine were removed had been greeted with emotion among Catholics. conservatives who wanted a new pope.
“I know that there were even meetings between priests who thought that the pope was in a worse state than what was being said”He told the Jesuits, in comments collected later by the Jesuit magazine La Civilta Cattolica, authorized by the Vatican. “They were preparing the conclave”.
That might not have been the case, but if history is any indication, those priests might not have been wrong to at least comment on the possibility.
Benedict was 85 when he resigned in February 2013, becoming the first pope to abdicate in 600 years and paving the way for Francis’ appointment. Although he was in good health at the time, Benedict said he simply did not have the strength to continue.
Before him, John Paul II died at 84, and John Paul I at 65 after just 33 days in office. In fact, all the popes of the 20th century died octogenarians or younger, except Leo XIII, who died in 1903 at the age of 93.
At the beginning of his pontificate, Francis predicted a brief mandate of two or three years and recognized Benedict the merit of having “open the doorFor other popes to retire in the future.
However, the Argentine Jesuit made it clear after his operation in July that he would resign “it didn’t even cross my mind. “
That’s good news for Sister Nathalie Becquart, one of the highest-ranking women in the Vatican. Francis commissioned him to organize the two-year consultation of Catholics around the world that will end with a meeting of bishops, known as a synod. She knows very well what the Pope is up against in his attempt to turn the Church into a less clerical institution close to the faithful.
“It’s a call for change”He said this week at a conference. “And we can say that it is not an easy road “.
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