Pope Francis announces visit to L’Aquila, fuels new speculation about future of pontificate

Fueling rumors about the future of his pontificate, Pope Francis has announced he will visit the central Italian city of L’Aquila in August.

Given his increased mobility issues which forced him to use a wheelchair last month, media outlets claimed that Pope Francis would follow Pope Benedict XVI and step down.

The 85-year-old’s announcement of the creation of a consistory made up of 21 new cardinals, 16 of whom are under the age of 80 and have the right to vote at a conclave to elect Francis’ successor, has further added momentum to the conjecture.

Francis will have stacked the College of Cardinals with 83 of the 132 voting-age cardinals, once they are added to the ranks of church princes.

The chances of them finding a successor who shares Francis’ pastoral priorities are growing, even if there is no guarantee of the cardinals’ vote.

To brief the cardinals on his recent Apostolic Constitution reforming Vatican bureaucracy, Francis also announced that he would hold two days of talks the following week.

From imposing term limits on Vatican priestly employees to allowing women to hold corporate offices, the document goes into effect Sunday.

Francis’ main task as pope was somehow accomplished after the reforms regarding the Roman Curia were rolled out.

With all but essential business closed, the Vatican and the rest of Italy are generally on vacation from August to mid-September.

Vatican commentator Robert Mickens tweeted “With today’s news that @Pontifex will be going to L’Aquila smack in the middle of the August Consistory, everything has become even more intriguing.”

(With agency contributions)

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