Pope Francis Had Already Retired When He Was Elected

“This is what I want, a poor Church for the poor.” —Pope Francis

In A Nutshell

Pope Francis is the most popular pope in living memory, a global figure nearly everyone agrees is awesome and a huge boon to the Catholic Church. But his election was far from a certain thing. At the point when his predecessor stepped down, Francis (then Jorge Mario Bergoglio) had already sent his letter of retirement to the Vatican—in keeping with the edict that cardinals must hang up their cloth at 75.

The Whole Bushel

Since his election earlier this year, Pope Francis has become the new mega-star of world religions. The Catholic Church’s answer to the Dalai Lama, Francis is instantly recognizable, already known for his down-to-Earth saintliness and love of the poor and currently drawing crowds four times the size of his predecessor. But things were nearly very different for the former Jorge Mario Bergoglio: In the months before Benedict XVI stepped down, he’d already been forced to retire.

Half a century ago, Pope Paul VI had decided to put an upper limit on the age of cardinals. Reasoning that 75 was old enough, he issued an edict making it Vatican law that all cardinals must hang up their cloth at that point. Fast-forward to December 2012 and the future Pope Francis had reached the cutoff point. According to TIME’s portrait of him for their “Person of the Year” feature, he sent his letter in early 2013 and sat back to await official acknowledgement. Friends said he seemed like a spent force, a man almost fading away, destined to spend the rest of his days in a spartan retirement home in his native Argentina.

We all know what happened next: Out of the blue, Benedict XVI became the first pope to retire in 600 years, prompting the election of Francis and a global shift in the direction of Catholicism. But it’s impossible to stress how unlikely this was. Francis wasn’t thought to be in the running for Pope, and would likely have never been elected if Benedict XVI had held out a little longer. Instead of being on the cover of TIME, he’d be a retired old man in Argentina, waiting to shuffle off this mortal coil and into the Kingdom of God. How close did this come to being reality? It’s hard to say, but had Benedict tarried even another six months, it seems unlikely we’d be having this discussion now.

Show Me The Proof

TIME‘s Person of the Year 2013: Pope Francis, The People’s Pope
Vatican Insider: The position of bishops who do not want to retire
Featured image photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann

  • Hillyard

    Not Catholic, or Christian for that matter, but this new guy seems to be a step in the right direction. Benedict was just running in place and JP2 was really much more conservative than most people realize.

  • Austin

    Interesting, it’s a good thing that Benedict stepped down when he did then. Pope Francis is probably the most progressive Pope in forever, and his opinions on Atheism and Homosexuality are much better than any before him. He might not drag the Catholic church kicking and screaming into the 21st Century, but it is a start.

    • Logan Rieck

      Pope Francis’ views on atheism and homosexuality are the same as his predecessors. Atheists are redeemed by Christ’s death as are all the world, including Muslims, Jews, what have you; but it doesn’t mean they are necessarily saved if they have rejected the Lord Jesus. Homosexuality, specifically the acts of homosexuality, is still considered sinful and Pope Francis saying he isn’t one to judge hearkens directly back to the Lord Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount Who said to, “Not judge, lest ye be judged.”

      Hopefully his reforms in the Church continue and progress for good. Merry Christmas!

  • Exiled Phoenix

    The people’s pope! Now if he could only do the eyebrow raise like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson…

    • Nathaniel A.

      Like this?

      • Hadeskabir

        That was damn funny!

      • Exiled Phoenix

        Lol, nice!

  • An inspiration, such an impressive guy, so down to earth and humble, yet perfectly clear in the values he communicates. The perfect man in a difficult place, his charisma stretching far beyond the church. How did he ever become pope 🙂 It’s a miracle.

    • Hadeskabir

      Yes, he is really an impressive person, you don’t have to be catholic to know that. He is a great human being, we need more leaders like him!

  • Hillyard

    What’s up with the article about koi and goldfish? Not coming up when I click on it.

    • Nathaniel A.

      It is not working for me either Hillyard.

    • Hadeskabir

      It seems there was an error when they published it. Now we’ll never know the difference between koi and goldfish!

    • Micah Duke

      Some people were getting errors, but we aren’t quite sure why. Were you getting an error when clicking from Listverse, from KN’s front page, from this article, or somewhere else? And are you still getting the error?

      • Hillyard

        Errors from both, but cleared up now thank you.

  • inconspicuous detective

    i thought this was common knowledge around the time he was voted in.

  • Imon

    I am not a Christian, but what ever Pope Francis says, I like it & try to follow as much as I can because it makes sense from a humane point of view. . I think he is a genuinely good man at heart, & if I may say so, just like an adorable Grand father every one should have, a loving caring person, who preaches less & guides more ….. May every religious leader in the world be like Pope Francis. I simply loved that sequence where a kid walked onto the stage while the Pope was saying something & his reactions to it.