In a recent interview, Pope Francis discussed the possibility that he might step down and suggested that Benedict’s decision to retire could mark a turning point for the papacy. The NYT:
“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief — four or five years; I do not know, even two or three,” [Pope Francis] predicted in an interview with a Mexican broadcaster. “Two have already passed. It is a somewhat vague sensation,” the pope said, reiterating his belief that “the Lord has placed me here for a short time, and nothing more.”
Leaving open the possibility that he might follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, who became the first pope to step down in 600 years when he did so in 2013, the pope said Benedict “should not be considered an exception, but an institution.”
“Maybe he will be the only one for a long time, maybe he will not be the only one,” said the pope, 78, adding that Benedict opened an “institutional door.”
Francis is saying something important. One of the reasons the Curia remains so powerful and has so often become an entrenched, corrupt bureaucracy is that, until Benedict, popes traditionally started strong but as they aged let control slip back to the permanent bureaucracy.If the idea takes hold that popes should step down when they no longer have the energy or the acuity to do the job, the Vatican’s balance of power will shift in what, practically speaking, could be the most significant reform in Catholicism since the Counter-Reformation.