Pope Francis has dismissed claims he was considering resigning due to ill health, emphasising that there are still several reforms he wishes to complete.
The 84-year-old Pope was speaking during his first interview since undergoing intestinal surgery in July. Since then, rumours have circulated in some media outlets that he is planning to step down for health reasons.
“I don't know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign…it didn't even cross my mind,” Francis told COPE, the radio network run by the Spanish Bishops’ Conference. “Whenever a Pope is ill, there is always a breeze or hurricane of a conclave.”
Francis, who will make a trip to Hungary and Slovakia from 12-15 September, said he is planning to visit Glasgow for the Cop26 climate change summit and that his “speech is already being prepared”. Trips to Cyprus, Greece and Malta are also on the cards.
In a wide-ranging discussion, the Pope stressed that the reforms carried out during his pontificate follow what the cardinals put forward in the meetings which took place ahead of the 2013 conclave. And there are more to come.
“I think there are several things still to be done, but there is nothing invented by me,” the Pope said. “I am obeying what was set at the time. Maybe some people did not realise what they were saying or thought it was not so serious, but some topics cause pain, it is true. But there is no originality of mine in the plan.”
In 2015, Francis said his pontificate could last less than five years but later made it clear to friends he would stay in post to ensure his reforms are irreversible.
Francis said the roadmap of his pontificate, the document Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”), was informed by the pre-2013 conclave discussions, as the long-awaited document on the reform of the Roman Curia, Praedicate Evangelium (“Preach the Gospel”, which is to be published shortly. The Pope said the latter text would not be a surprise given many of the details, including the merging of several Vatican departments, are already known. Along with implementing the wishes of the cardinals, Francis has also repeatedly made it clear that he is using his pontificate to implement the vision of the Second Vatican Council, the 1962-65 gathering of bishops which set the blueprint for the contemporary church.
During the interview, the Pope explained his reasoning behind restricting the pre-Vatican II liturgy, saying that pastoral provisions for those attached to the Old Rite had become an ideology. Francis said Benedict had done “one of the most beautiful and human pastoral things” but allowing the use of the Tridentine Latin Mass “for those who did not feel good with the current liturgy, who had a certain nostalgia”.
But he said that a study carried out by the Vatican revealed that “something that was done to help pastorally those who have lived a previous experience was being transformed into ideology”. He added: “So, we had to react with clear norms. Clear norms that put a limit to those who had not lived that experience.”
In his remarks, the Pope distinguished between those who had a nostalgia for the Old Rite and young priests who want the Tridentine Mass but “don’t know Latin” and “don’t know what it means”.
Next month, a global synod process involving every diocese in the Church is set to begin and one which has been described as the most ambitious Catholic renewal project since Vatican II.
When asked about the German synodal process, which has been heavily criticised by conservatives for discussing questions of sexual teaching and women’s ministry the Pope said there is “no ill will in many bishops with whom I spoke” and that it “is a pastoral desire”. But he cited the letter he had written to the German church about the synod and said the process is “one that perhaps does not take into account some things that I explain in the letter that need to be taken into account”.
The Pope explained that he had made a good recovery from his surgery which had removed 33 centimetres from his intestine. Francis said he was able to “eat everything” which had not been possible before the operation. The Pope explained a male nurse had urged him to have colon surgery while others had suggested he take antibiotics. “He saved my life,” Francis said.