EWTN Catholic Q&A
Electing a "Caretaker Pope"
Question from J.J. on 04-02-2005:

Hi there. As you know, after long pontificates, the Cardinals may decide to choose a caretaker pope who is in advanced age and, perhaps, with a philosophy not different from the previous Pontiff.

My question is, what is the point of having a caretaker pope? I don't get why they would want a pope there for a short time. Frankly, for someone young like me, I find it exciting to have such a pope, so that we can see conclaves more often. I mean, I really love John Paul II, but out of curiosity, I wanted to see an interregnum and conclave. But aside from that, what is the practicality of especially electing a pope who won't rock the boat? Like any institution, instability with the Vatican is not good news; such instability is only natural during an interregnum. So, why elect an elder pope who most likely would only bring another interregnum sooner rather than how a younger pope would bring it later?

If you could shed some light on this for me, I'd really appreciate it.

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 04-08-2005:

A caretaker pope has been the decision of various conclaves over the centuries -- by which is meant a pope advanced in years who serves as a stabilizing bridge between long reigns. The intention has not always worked out, as seen with the election of Pope Leo XIII in 1878. Advanced in years, he surprised the world by reigning for twenty-five years and dying in 1903. In the situation this year, an older Cardinal might serve to permit a shorter reign chiefly committed to certifying the direction taken by Pope John Paul II while laying the groundwork for the continued successes that were enjoyed under his pontificate. It is, of course, a matter entirely of speculation.

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