Papal Possibilities, Anno Domini 2022
Interpreting – sometimes misinterpreting – gestures by popes is a (mostly) harmless pastime for many Catholics. Presumably, the Holy Spirit is invisibly and unpredictably present in the choice of those He permits to become successors to St. Peter. But that spiritual wildcard doesn’t slow speculation. The latest in papalist drama arises from the Vatican’s announcement Saturday that Pope Francis, despite health and mobility issues, will visit L’Aquila in Italy on August 28 to celebrate the Feast of Forgiveness, created in 1294 by Pope Celestine V.
Now, you may need a quick refresher on papal history to understand what this may mean. (Please, bear with me; the relevance will soon become clear.) Celestine V was the last pope – before Benedict XVI – to abdicate. For good reasons. He was a monk and a hermit thrown into the turbulent Church politics of the thirteenth century – and wholly unsuited to the office. It was a kind of desperate measure; perhaps an obviously holy man might unite the various warring factions, which were deadlocked and had left the Church without a pope for over two years (the 1292-94 interregnum).
He couldn’t do it and knew he couldn’t. And wanted to return to the monastery. His successor, Boniface VIII, wouldn’t allow it and had him imprisoned, just in case his supporters had ideas about returning him as anti-pope. After various escapades – Celestine escaped at one point and hid in the woods, tried to board a ship for the Dalmatian coast, etc. – he settled into prison life and died 10 months later (rumors of mistreatment or even poisoning have never been substantiated).