Ailing Pope Francis, 85, says the ‘door is open’ for retirement but rules out stepping down any time soon
- Francis has talked openly about the possibility of him stepping down as Pope
- 85-year-old said ‘door is open’ to retirement, and that he would like to stay in Rome or go back to his native Argentina where he could hear confession
- But he denied retirement is imminent, and he would only leave if ‘time was right’
- Francis has been in ill-health recently, prompting speculation about his future
Pope Francis has again hinted that he intends to retire, saying ‘the door is open’ for him to step down as head of the Catholic Church.
Francis said the retirement of his predecessor – Pope Emeritus Benedict – had gone ‘rather well’ and that he could also retire ‘if the time is right’ and ‘if I survive’.
But the 85-year-old, who has suffered bouts of ill-health in recent months, denied he has plans to call it quits any time soon.
Pope Francis, 85, has again hinted that he has plans to retire – saying the ‘door is open’ and he might like to head home to his native Argentina after stepping down
Speaking to Mexican-American broadcaster TelevisaUnivision in his native Spanish, Francis said: ‘The first experience went rather well because [Benedict] a saintly and discreet man, and he handled it well.
‘But in the future, things should be delineated more, or things should be made more explicit.’
The pope added: ‘I think for having taken the first step after so many centuries, he gets 10 points. It’s a marvel.’
Francis said he would also step down if the time was right before he died while still serving, ‘if I survive’.
Some cardinals and canon lawyers have long questioned Benedict’s decisions in retirement, including his continuing to wear the white cassock of the papacy and keeping his papal name rather than reverting to Josef Ratzinger.
They say those choices and Benedict’s continued presence in the Vatican created confusion among the faithful and enabled Francis’s traditionalist critics to use Benedict as a rallying point, threatening the unity of the Catholic Church.
Asked whether he would continue to live at the Vatican after retirement, Francis answered ‘surely no’.
But he said ‘maybe’ when it was suggested that he might take up residence in the Basilica of St John Lateran, which is the traditional seat of the bishop of Rome.
‘I’m the bishop of Rome, in this case the emeritus bishop of Rome,’ Francis said.
He also recalled that he had planned to retire as archbishop of Buenos Aires at the time of the 2013 conclave that resulted in him becoming pope.
Francis said he had prepared a nice apartment in Buenos Aires where he could continue hearing confessions at a nearby church and visiting the sick at a hospital.
‘This is what I thought for Buenos Aires. I think this scenario, if I survive until a resignation – it’s possible I might die before – … I’d like something like this,’ he said.
Benedict became the first Pope to step down in 600 years when he retired in 2013, saying ill health meant he couldn’t keep up with the demands of the role.
Talk began to swirl of Francis’s own possible retirement in May, when he was pictured using a wheelchair for the first time due to pain in his knee.
The pontiff has since undergone surgery and been seen back on his feet, but has begun to send discreet signals that he is looking for the exit.
Francis has called a consistory for August 27 to create new cardinals, some of whom would be eligible to elect a new Pope at the next conclave.
He has also scheduled a trip – due to take place the day after the consistory – to the town of L’Aquila, which was ravaged by a 2009 earthquake.
Francis will attend a local religious festival before visiting the tomb of Celestine V, a hermit who became Pope in 1294 but retired just five months into the job.
Benedict visited the same tomb four years before announcing his own retirement, which also came when he was aged 85.
Robert Mickens, editor of the La Croix Catholic newspaper, told The Guardian: ‘There is ‘no reason that he needs to call this [event] three months in advance and then go to L’Aquila in the middle of it.
The 85-year-old Francis said when he was first elected that he would like it to become normal for Popes to retire (file image)
‘I think there’ll be another announcement: it might not be that he’s going to resign, but I think that’s a very good possibility.’
Francis’s most-recent interview also covered topics other than retirement.
On whether Catholic politicians who support abortion rights should continue receiving the sacraments, Francis repeated it was a matter of conscience for elected officials to work out for themselves.
While the Catholic Church opposes abortion, Francis added that priests and bishops should remain pastors.
‘When a pastor loses the pastoral dimension, he creates a political problem,’ Francis said, referring to the ‘polarised’ debate in the United States concerning President Joe Biden and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, both Catholics who support abortion rights.
US bishops considered rebuking Mr Biden for his support of abortion rights, but ultimately backed off a formal rebuke.
Ms Pelosi’s bishop, San Francisco Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone, has barred her from receiving Communion in his archdiocese, though she recently received Communion during a papal mass at the Vatican’s St Peter’s Basilica.
Asked what such Catholic politicians should do, Francis said: ‘I leave it to his conscience and that he speaks to his bishop, his pastor, his parish priest, about that inconsistency.
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