Pope Francis has fuelled speculation that he could resign after postponing a trip to Africa and announcing an unusual meeting of cardinals.
This comes after the 85-year-old pontiff postponed a July trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan last week amid suffering pain in his knee and being forced to use a wheelchair in recent weeks.
According to Mail Online, he also announced an unusual decision to hold a consistory to name new cardinals during a Vatican vacation month and arranged meetings to ensure his reforms stay intact.
The extraordinary consistory will be held on August 27, a slow summer month at the Catholic headquarters, to create 21 new cardinals – 16 of whom will be under the age of 80, thereby eligible to elect his successor in the future.
Since becoming pope in 2013, the Argentine pontiff has created 83 cardinals in a move to shape the future of the Catholic Church, in part to counter Europe’s historically dominant influence, and to reflect his values.
On August 28, Francis will then pay a visit to L’Aquila and the tomb of Celestine V, the first pope to have resigned from the papacy, in the 13th century.
He then joins the world’s cardinals in two days of discussions over the reform of the Roman Curia, which Francis announced in March with the unveiling of a new constitution.
Francis’ shake-up of the Roman Curia attempts to shift the Church back towards its pastoral roots, allows lay Catholics to head Vatican departments and creates a dicastery specifically for charity works among other reforms.
The moves have triggered intense speculation about his plans for the future, including claims that he was planning to step down.
In 2013, Benedict XVI renounced his reign, citing his declining physical and mental health.
In 2014, a year after being elected to replace Benedict, Francis himself told reporters that were his health to impede his functions as pope, he would consider stepping down too.