AP Interview: The Pope talks about health, criticism and his future

VATICAN CITY (HPD) — Pope Francis says it has not even occurred to him to introduce regulations governing future papal resignations, and that he will continue as long as he can as bishop of Rome despite a flurry of criticism from some high-ranking cardinals and bishops.

In his first interview since the death of emeritus pope Benedict XVI on Dec. 31, Francis discussed his health, his critics and the next phase of his pontificate, which marks its 10th anniversary in March without Benedict’s shadow hanging in the background.

“I’m healthy. Because of my age, I am normal,” the 86-year-old pontiff said Tuesday, although he indicated that diverticulosis, pouches that form in the wall of the intestine, had “come back.” In 2021, Francis had 10 inches (33 centimeters) of his large intestine removed for what the Vatican described as inflation caused by a narrowing of the colon.

He added that a small fracture in the knee from a fall had healed without surgery, after treatment with laser and magnetotherapy.

“I can die tomorrow, but come on, it’s controlled. My health is fine, ”he told The Associated Press with his usual irony.

Speculation about Francis’ health and the future of his pontificate has only grown since the death of Benedict, whose resignation in 2013 marked a turning point for the Catholic Church, the first pontiff to resign in six centuries.

Some experts believe Francis may find himself freer to maneuver now that Benedict, who spent 10 years of his retirement in the Vatican, is gone. Others suggest that whatever kind of ecclesiastical peace has ended and that Francis is now more open to criticism, deprived of the moderating influence that Benedict played in keeping more conservative Catholics at bay.

The pope acknowledged that there were conflicting views, but seemed almost optimistic about it.

“I would not associate it with Benedict, but with the wear and tear of the ten-year government,” he said of his papacy. His choice was first met with “surprise” by the appointment of a South American pope, he said. Then came the discomfort “when they start to see the defects that I have, (…) they don’t like it,” he said.

“The only thing I ask is that they do them on my face, because that’s how we all grow up, right?” he added.

Francis praised Benedict’s “lordship,” saying that with his death, “I lost a dad.”

“For me it was security when faced with a doubt, asking for the car and going to the monastery and asking questions,” he said of his visits to Benedict’s retirement home to seek advice. “I lost a good partner.”

Some cardinals and canon lawyers have said the Vatican should regulate future pope retirements to avoid some hiccups during Benedict’s unexpectedly long retirement, in which the emeritus pope remained a point of reference for some conservatives and traditionalists who refused to to recognize the legitimacy of Francis.

From the name chosen by Benedict, pope emeritus, to the white clothes he wore in his occasional public appearances, in which he spoke of the celibacy of priests and sexual abuse, these experts said that the norms should make it clear that there is only one ruling pope. , for the sake of the unity of the Church.

Francisco said that he had not even thought about those rules.

“It didn’t occur to me. I tell you the truth”, she commented, adding that the Vatican needs more experience with retired popes to “regulate more or regulate more”.

Francis has said that Benedict “opened the door” to future resignations and that he would also consider it. On Tuesday he reiterated that if he resigned, he would take up the post of bishop emeritus of Rome and live in the residence for retired priests in the diocese of Rome.

The pope described Benedict’s decision to settle in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens as “a good compromise” but that perhaps in the future, other popes might want to do things differently.

“He was still a slave, unquote, of a pope, right?” Francis said. “From the vision of a pope, of a system. Slave in the good sense of the word. In which he was not completely free, as perhaps he would have wanted to return to his Germany and continue studying theology from there ”.

Benedict’s death arguably removes the main obstacle to Francis resigning, given that the prospect of having two retired popes was never an option. But Francisco said that the death of his predecessor had not changed his plans. “It didn’t even occur to me to make a will about myself,” he said.

In the short term, Francis stressed his role as “bishop of Rome” in contrast to the pope figure and said his plans were to “continue to be a bishop, bishop of Rome and in communion with all the bishops of the world.” He indicated that he wanted to eliminate the concept of the papacy as a “court.”

The pope also addressed criticism from cardinals and bishops known in the weeks since Benedict’s death, which he described as uncomfortable, “like hives, it bothers a little bit,” but which he would rather keep quiet about.

“One prefers there not to be (criticism). For peace of mind, go,” she noted. “But I prefer that they do them, because that means that there is freedom to speak.”

“If it is not like that, a dictatorship of the distance is engendered, which I call it, where the emperor is there and nobody can say anything to him. No, let them say, because the company, the criticism, helps to grow and things to go well, ”he added.

The first spear in the flurry of attacks came from Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, who laid bare the resentment built up over the past 10 years in a revealing memoir published in the first days after the funeral. of Benedict.

In one of the most controversial parts, Gaenswein revealed that Benedict learned from the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano that Francis had revoked one of the pope emeritus’ most signal liturgical decisions and reimposed restrictions on celebrating Mass in Latin.

A few days after the memoirs were published, the Vatican was rocked again by the death of another Conservative leader, Cardinal George Pell, and revelations that Pell had written a devastating memo that was circulated last year, and that he had described Francis’ pontificate as “a disaster” and “a catastrophe.”

The text, which initially circulated under the pseudonym “Demos,” listed all the problems at the Vatican under Francis, from its precarious finances to the pontiff’s preaching style, and included a list of what a future pope might do to help. fix them.

Francis acknowledged Pell’s criticism but praised him nonetheless for being his “right hand” in reforming Vatican finances and his first finance minister.

“They say that in the end he criticized me. Well, he has the right, criticism is a human right,” Francisco commented. “A great guy. Great”.

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