Trend of older pontiffs continues with Pope Francis I, 76


The papacy now has another septuagenarian.

Jorge Mario Bergoglio, 76, an Argentine, was selected Wednesday to head the Roman Catholic Church, an opening that arose when his predecessor, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI, stepped down from the demanding post, citing frailty.

Benedict’s move was an aberrant one, historically speaking. No pope had stepped down from the lifelong position in almost 600 years.

Benedict was elected in 2005 at the age of 78 to succeed Pope John Paul II, which was seen as a move that continued the conservative bent of John Paul’s reign.

John Paul, however, was only 58 when he was selected in 1978, which was young.

A study in the International Journal of Epidemiology showed that from 1600 to 1900, the average age of popes at election was 65.5; from 1200 to 1599, the average age was 60. Between 1200 and 1900, however, terms started to stretch longer as people lived longer, and the average papal terms from 1600 to 1900 averaged more than a decade, doubling the old average of 6 years.