Will Pope Francis Have a Short Papacy? Don’t Bet On It

Pope Francis at the Vatican. Image via neneo/

Pope Francis at the Vatican. Image via neneo/

In a wide-ranging interview he gave March 13 for the second anniversary of his election, Pope Francis touched on a variety of topics, from his concern about bad homilies to his upcoming U.S. visit to his one real wish: to go out for a pizza without being recognized.

But leading most of the news coverage were his remarks suggesting that he expects his papacy to be short, perhaps lasting no more than another year or two.

“I have the feeling that my pontificate will be brief: four or five years; I do not know, even two or three. Two have already passed,” he told a Mexican television station.

“Say it ain’t so, Pope!” as the lead on the New York Daily News’ story on Francis’ “shocking comments” put it.

“I just want him to be around for as long as possible,” Cardinal Timothy Dolan told the tabloid.

“I need him. We need him. The church needs him.”

To be sure, the prospect of Francis’ imminent retirement — or demise — would be dismal news for Francis’ many fans, and perhaps a rare lift for his opponents.

In fact, Francis has suggested on several other occasions that he did not expect his papacy to be too long, and one can understand why he would say that:

  • He is 78 years old, and while he is amazingly active and productive, he suffers from various pains and potentially more serious health issues. His aides worry about the pace he keeps, and he repeatedly ignores their pleas for him to slow down.
  • In recent decades both Pope Paul VI and Pope John Paul II were targets of assassination attempts (a shooter in St. Peter’s Square critically wounded John Paul) and in a world reeling with terrorist attacks and religious strife, Francis knows he is a potential target.
  • John Paul reigned for 26 years, the third-longest papacy in history, so compared with that even a decade-long pontificate would seem short.
  • John Paul’s successor, Benedict XVI, opened a new option — which Francis has praised — when in 2013 he became the first pontiff in six centuries to retire, and after just eight years, at the age of 85.

But a closer reading of Francis’ remarks, and analysis from those who know the pope, say that’s not what he meant, at all.

Staying Connected in Later Years

IN THE U.S., mention of “aging in community” might conjure up images of weathered faces in nursing homes and snowbirds in South Florida. And yet, as increasing numbers of Americans reach the golden years—and do so in an uncertain economy—so do the array of scenarios for those growing older. Award-winning journalist Beth Baker traveled across the U.S. to document the possibilities in her latest book, With a Little Help from Our Friends: Creating Community as We Grow Older.

Some of her findings aren’t so surprising. Baby boomers have a stronger desire for independence than did their predecessors, and they aren’t keen on being tagged “elderly.” In fact, they generally see themselves in a different cohort than those born just prior to the boom.

Whether you’re in one of the aforementioned age groups or a diligent millennial thinking way ahead, Baker shows that imagining how you’ll one day balance independence with human connection in your older years doesn’t have to be daunting.

“That we can raise this question is remarkable. Never before have older people, often through their own imagination and determination, had real options from which to choose,” she writes.

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When Grandma Can’t Eat

Image: OneSmallSquare /

Image: OneSmallSquare /

As Congress continues to wage a war of political ideology over budget cuts and entitlement programs, they need to remember that these abstract policy debates have real consequences for millions of Americans. 

Deciding between funding programs that feed the hungriest Americans versus giving tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans is not really a choice, at least not when it comes to the demands of the Gospel.

Will We Be Able to Afford Medicare?

Cost of Medicare photo, aceshot1 /

Cost of Medicare photo, aceshot1 /

We'll be hearing a lot about Medicare between now and November. President Barack Obama wants to tweak it. Mitt Romney wants to reinvent it. Everyone who wants to get elected, however, agrees on one thing: nothing will change for the current crop of seniors and soon-to-be seniors.

Whew. Six months and Mr. Neff will be home free! Less than a year and a half and we'll both have free health care! And then we can afford to retire, right?


Moving Money: Investing in a New World

On Nov. 5 folks all over the world will divest from Wall Street and its banks … in order to invest in a better world.

Ideologies alone are not enough. There came a point in the movement to abolish slavery where ideology required responsibility. As one abolitionist said, “The only way to be a good slave-owner is to refuse to be a slave-owner.” To truly be against slavery also meant that you didn’t drink sugar in your tea, because sugar was produced with slave labor.

So on November 5, my wife and I will be joining the “Move Your Money” celebration, moving our money from Bank of America to the non-profit credit union here in Philadelphia.

It is one small step away from the vicious cycle that continues to see money transfer from the increasingly poor to the increasingly rich.

It is trying to take to heart Jesus’ command to “Get the log out” of my own eye.

It is a move towards Gandhi’s call to “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

It’s one little step towards being less of a hypocrite tomorrow than I am today.