From the start of his papacy, the ‘outsider Pope’ has made clear the direction in which he would like to take the Church. This year has seen Francis, who is 85 on 17 December, put his foot on the accelerator
At the beginning of 2021, I wrote that as Pope Francis was seeking to press ahead with his reforms, he was showing no sign of slowing down. This year, Francis has not simply kept up the pace of change – he has moved into top gear. The Pope seems determined not to waste what he sees as a critical, epoch-shifting, kairos moment to reshape the Church for the twenty-first century.
The last 12 months have been a whirlwind of activity, with Francis opening the most ambitious Catholic renewal process in six decades; making a historic visit to Iraq; giving the green light for an unprecedented corruption trial in the Vatican; and continuing to offer bold leadership on the migrants’ crisis, climate change and social justice.
There are no signs that the Pope intends to step down. The operation on his colon in July was a success and, apart from suffering occasional bouts of sciatica, he is in good health for a man of his age. Those close to Francis say he is likely to remain in post until at least October 2023, when the crucial Synod of Bishops assembly is due to take place in Rome. A resignation is considered to be highly unlikely while Pope Emeritus Benedict is still alive. One church source told me that, God willing, the Pope intends to stay until his reforms are “irreversible”.