The Elderly Pope’s Final Push?

By Robert Mickens, 3 July 2024
An image of Pope Francis. Image: Vatican News


July and August used to be downtime at the Vatican. That changed in 2013 after Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected Bishop of Rome. The Argentine Jesuit, now best known as Pope Francis, immediately broke the custom set by his predecessors and did not take a summer holiday. That meant that no one else in the Roman Curia was allowed to slacken the pace, either. The big papal mass on June 29, Rome’s patronal feast of Saints Peter and Paul, used to be the final act of the Vatican’s “pastoral/legislative year.” Then the popes (at least John Paul II and Benedict XVI) would usually go to the Italian Alps for a couple of weeks and, afterwards, transfer to the Castel Gandolfo papal summer residence in the hills southeast of the Eternal City until late August or early September before going back to work full time. Francis, on the other hand, has never taken a vacation. Instead, he’s traveled and has continued to work.

The Pope Francis era is in its final stage. Given his penchant for keeping people on their toes, shaking things up and issuing (with greater regularity) conflicting and even contradictory messages, it would not be wise to wager on when this pontificate will finally be concluded. But Vatican watchers are already trying to draw up a balance sheet of Francis’ tenure as Supreme Pontiff. He certainly has brought to the fore a lot of thorny issues—the role of women in the Church and Catholic teaching on human sexuality, to name just two. Open discussion about these and a number of other items, such as obligatory priestly celibacy, were off-limits in the previous two pontificates. The fact that they are debated openly, even inside the Vatican, is extremely healthy. And very disruptive. The question many reform-minded Catholics are asking is whether Francis has been able to really change anything regarding such topics. And they rightly wonder if this season of openness will be closed down with the next pope. These are serious and worrying questions.

The Jesuit pope, right from the very beginning, said he believes the most important reform concerns mentality or attitude, not structures. Eleven years on, has he succeeded in changing the mentality in the Church? It depends on who one is talking about.

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Robert Mickens has been living in Rome since 1986 and reporting on the Vatican and the papacy for nearly 35 years. He recently finished 10 years as English-language editor of La Croix International and is currently on sabbatical for Hungarian language studies.

With thanks to Go, Rebuild My House, a publication of Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Connecticut, United States.


The Diocese of Parramatta reaffirms the wise axiom attributed to Saint Augustine of Hippo: “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, freedom; in all things, charity.” In this spirit,Catholic Outlookpublishes a variety of Catholic viewpoints. They are not necessarily the official views of the Diocese of Parramatta.


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