Allies of Pope Francis are saying that he's planning to follow the example of Benedict XVI and retire. But he'll only do so once he's appointed enough liberal cardinals to make sure that the next conclave doesn't elected a conservative who will interpret Catholic doctrine more strictly than he does.
This, at least, is what allies of the Pope have been telling colleagues – claiming that they've heard it from the pontiff himself. (Francis himself is a notorious chatterbox and so are some of the cardinals close to him.)
The Pope, now 80, apparently wants to hold three more consistories at which he will bestow the red hat on bishops who share his vision of reform (whatever that may be: the details are still sketchy, four years in).
He could be gone in two or three years, raising the surreal possibility that we'll have three living popes and ex-popes. (Benedict XVI looked pretty healthy when he celebrated his 90th birthday last weekend.)
Anyway, to learn more you'll have to listen to the new episode of the Spectator's Holy Smoke, which I co-present with Cristina Odone. Our guest is Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith, moral theologian and Vatican observer.
It's a pretty lively exchange. I particularly like the bit where Fr Alexander asks Cristina, a big fan of the pontiff, if she worships God or Francis...
You can listen to our discussion here:
And if you enjoyed that, do subscribe on iTunes for a new episode every other Friday.