Pope Francis has said that his recent trip to Canada showed he may one day need to retire if his health fails him. Although he was recently forced to deny rumours that he was about to step down, the 85-year-old Catholic leader has previously left open the possibility of some day retiring, and spent much of his Canadian visit using a wheelchair.
Francis would be only the third pope in history to retire but the second in a row. The resignation of Pope Benedict in 2013 caught the assembled cardinals off guard.
Whether or not Francis resigns, it raises important questions about the future of the papacy in the face of medical advances and the changing realities of ageing.
Pope until death?
Given the spiritual significance of a “good” death, it is not unusual for religious leaders to die in office. Many will remember the huge crowds that gathered on St Peter’s Square and around the world during Pope John Paul II’s final illness.
For Catholics, there are compelling theological reasons why a pope should remain in office until his death. As universal shepherd, successor to St Peter and vicar of Christ, the pope both embodies the Church as…