Is Pope Francis set to resign? Here's 3 reasons people think he is

There is growing speculation that Pope Francis is set to resign. Here are the reasons why:

Reason 1: An unusual meeting

August is usually a slow summer vacation month for the Vatican. This year, though, the Pope has called a “consistory” (an assembly or council) to name 21 new cardinals on the unusual date of the 27th. Sixteen of the new cardinals will be under the age of 80, making them electable as a papal successor in future conclaves (gatherings of the College of Cardinals convened to elect a bishop of Rome/Pope).

Following the conclave, Francis has scheduled an unusual meeting of the world’s cardinals – a group that usually only gathers when it is time to elect a new pontiff. The official reason for the meeting is to review the pope’s recent reform of the Vatican’s central bureaucracy. Still, many people have interpreted it as a deliberate opportunity for fellowship amongst the cardinals.

Since becoming pope in 2013, Francis has named 83 new cardinals, some of whom are from countries that ordinarily have not been represented in the College of Cardinals. Consequently, many do not know each other. According to America Magazine Vatican correspondent Gerard O’Connell, some cardinals asked Pope Francis to arrange a meeting where the College of Cardinals could get to know one another to build some familiarity ahead of the next conclave.

For Francis, whose time as pope has been marked by an emphasis on pastoral ministry over bureaucracy, this could be an attempt to build relationships between the large group so that, when it comes time to elect a new pope, those cardinals without a high profile are considered. After all, the College of Cardinals and Pope Francis himself have experienced the friction of electing a new Pope when they hardly knew each other before.

In 2005, when a papal conclave was convened to elect a new pope following the death of Pope John Paul II, the cardinals had not been gathered together since 1978. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger – a well-known Vatican representative who was Dean of the College of Cardinals and officiated the meetings – was elected after four ballots. He took the name Pope Benedict XVI.

His closest rival in the election process was Pope Francis (then known as Argentian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio), who was himself elected pope following Pope Benedict XVI’s unexpected resignation on February 11 2013.

Some believe Francis has stacked the conclave with cardinals who think like him to ensure his legacy. There will be 95 cardinals he has selected after the consistory, with 75-77 out of 120 total votes needed for a quorum in a papal election.

Reason 2: Cancelled travelled plans, bad health and a joke

The 85-year-old pontiff has required a wheelchair in recent weeks due to pain in his knee that has increasingly caused him to hobble.

On June 12, Pope Francis apologised to the people of the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan for having to cancel his visit because of walking problems. He said he was hopeful his condition would improve.

The Vatican announced on Thursday that the July 2-7 trip had been postponed indefinitely because of the 85-year-old pontiff’s knee ailment, which has forced him to use a wheelchair for more than a month.

While the exact problem with Francis’ knee has not been clearly stated, the ongoing issue has clearly worsened in recent weeks.

In May, at the Conferenza Episcopale Italiana (CEI) – a 230-person conference of Italian bishops – the Pope reportedly joked that, rather than get surgery on the knee, “I resign!” – sending rumours spiralling.

Reason 3: A planned  visit to Pope Celestine V

At the same time the cardinals are in Rome, Pope Francis has scheduled a day trip to the cathedral in L’Aquila to celebrate the Feast of Forgiveness. The mass will occur in front of the Basilica of Collemaggio, where Pope Celestino V is interned.

Celestine V was the first pope in history to resign by choice. He resigned after just five months in the role, having been an unwilling pontiff from the beginning. He is known as the Pope of “great refusal” and is believed to feature in Dante’s Inferno as the nameless figure in the antechamber of Hell.

Pope Benedict XVI also went to L’Aquila in April 28, 2009, a few weeks after an earthquake struck the area. While there, Pope Benedict placed his pallium (liturgical vestment consisting of a strip of white woollen cloth wrapped around his shoulders that represents the sheep that the shepherd carries on his shoulders) on Pope Celestine V’s shrine.

Four years later, when he resigned, people looked back on Benedict’s action as symbolic. Francis’s decision to make a day trip to the location at the same time his meeting of the Cardinals is underway has only served to fuel rumours of his resignation.