‘Now it is much easier to envision a resignation because Benedict paved the way for that, and it changed our perception.’

From The New York Times: 

Over the last few weeks, close watchers of the Roman Catholic Church have carefully studied shadows on the Vatican walls for proof that Pope Francis is about to retire.

They pointed at an unexpected move to create new cardinals in August as a sign that Francis, 85, was stacking the college that will pick his successor before an early exit. They read deep into his planned visit to an Italian town with a connection to a medieval pope who called it quits. They saw the pope’s use of a wheelchair and his cancellation of a trip to Africa as evidence of his papacy’s premature ending, despite Vatican explanations about a healing right knee.

But in an interview published on Monday, Francis dispelled the rumors, calling the supposed evidence mere “coincidences” and telling Reuters that the idea of resignation “never entered my mind. For the moment no. For the moment, no. Really.”

The only shadow that seemed real then was the one cast by Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pontiff to retire in nearly 600 years. In doing so, he changed the nature, and perception, of the papacy from a lifetime mission assigned by the Holy Spirit to a more earthly calling, subject to political pressures, health assessments and considerations about the church’s best interests.

“Now it is much easier to envision a resignation because Benedict paved the way for that, and it changed our perception,” said Giovanna Chirri, a veteran Vatican reporter who broke the news of Benedict’s retirement when she understood the pope, to the shock of the cardinals around him, tender his resignation while speaking in Latin. “It is not like before.”

For all of Benedict’s struggles to leave a mark on the church, his papacy is often remembered for its public relations missteps and inconvenient revelations about dysfunction within the Vatican. But the German pontiff’s decision to quit transformed the office, creating pre-Benedict and post-Benedict eras when it comes to the expectations of how long popes will stay in power.

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