VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says he has not considered issuing rules governing future papal resignations and plans to continue as long as he can as bishop of Rome, despite a wave of criticism from some leading conservative cardinals and bishops over his papal priorities.
In his first interview since the death of retired Pope Benedict XVI on December 31, Francis addressed his critics, his health and the next phase of his tenure, which marks his 10th anniversary in March without Benedict’s shadow in the background.
Francis’ comments, made Tuesday at the Vatican hotel where he lives, came at a particularly difficult time, as the pontiff has pushed back against conservative opposition to his insistence on making the Catholic Church a more welcoming, inclusive place — criticism that he in the corresponding a 10-year itch of his papacy.
“You prefer not to be criticized, for peace of mind,” Francis told The Associated Press. “But I prefer that they do because it means there is freedom to speak.”
Some commentators believe that Francis could be freer to maneuver now that Benedict is dead. Others suggest that any kind of ecclesiastical peace that reigned was over and that Francis is now more exposed to critics, lacking the moderating influence that Benedict played in keeping the conservative Catholic fringe at bay.
Francis acknowledged that the knives were out, but seemed almost optimistic about it.
“I wouldn’t associate it with Benedict, but because of the decay of a 10-year government,” Francis said of his critics. He claimed his election was initially greeted with a sense of “surprise” for a South American pope. Then came the discomfort “when they started seeing my flaws and they didn’t like them,” he said of his critics.
“All I ask is that they do it to my face because that’s how we all grow up, right?” he added.
The pontiff, meanwhile, said he was in good shape, that a slight bone fracture in his knee from a fall had healed without surgery, and that he was ready to resume his agenda.
“I am in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” the 86-year-old pontiff said, although he revealed that the diverticula, or swellings in his intestinal wall, “came back.” Francis had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon removed in 2021 because of what the Vatican said was inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon.
“I may die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I am in good health,” he said with his characteristic humor.
Speculation about Francis’ health and the future of his pontificate has only increased since the death of Benedict, whose resignation in 2013 marked a turning point for the Catholic Church since he was the first pontiff in six centuries to retire.
Francis praised Benedict as an “old-fashioned gentleman” and said of his death: “I lost a daddy.”
“For me it was security. When in doubt, I would ask for the car and go to the monastery and ask,” he said of his visits to the Benedictine nursing home for advice. “I’ve lost a good mate.”
Some cardinals and lawyers have said the Vatican should issue rules to regulate future papal retirements to prevent the few hiccups that occurred during Benedict’s unexpectedly long retirement, during which he remained a point of reference for some conservatives and traditionalists who refused to recognize the legitimacy of Francis.
From the name Benedict chose (pope emeritus) to the (white) cassock he wore in his occasional public remarks (on priestly celibacy and sexual abuse), these commentators said the rules should make it clear that there is only one reigning Pope for the sake of church unity.
Francis said that issuing such rules had not even crossed his mind.
“I’m telling you the truth,” he said, adding that the Vatican needed more experience with papal pensions before starting to “regulate or regulate” them.
Francis said Benedict “opened the door” to future resignations and that he too would consider resigning. He reiterated on Tuesday that if he resigned he would be named bishop emeritus of Rome and live in a residence for retired priests in the diocese of Rome.
Francis said Benedict’s decision to live in a renovated monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good interim solution” but that future retired popes may want to do things differently.
“He was still ‘enslaved’ as pope, wasn’t he?” said Francis. “The vision of a pope, of a system. “Slave” in the good sense of the word: Since he was not completely free, as he would have liked to have returned to his Germany and continued to study theology.
By one reckoning, Benedict’s death removes the main obstacle to Francis’ resignation, since the prospect of two retired popes was never an option. But Francis said Benedict’s death had not changed his calculations. “It didn’t even occur to me to write a will,” he said.
As for his own future, Francis emphasized his role as the “bishop of Rome” as opposed to the pontiff and said of his plans: “Continue to be a bishop, a bishop of Rome in communion with all the bishops of the world.” He wanted to end the concept of the papacy as a power player or papal “court”.
Francis also addressed the criticism from cardinals and bishops that has come to light in the weeks since Benedict’s death, saying it is unpleasant – “like a rash that bothers you a little” – but that is better than keeping it under wraps. Francis has been under attack for years from conservatives and traditionalists who oppose his priorities on social justice issues such as poverty, immigration and the environment.
“If it is not so, there would be a dictatorship of distance, as I call it, where the emperor is there and no one can say anything to him. No, let them talk because… criticism helps you grow and make things better,” he said.
The first jump in the latest wave of attacks came from Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Genswein, who revealed the bad blood that had built up over the past 10 years in a revealing memoir published in the days after Benedict’s funeral.
In one of the most explosive sections, Gaenswein revealed that Benedict learned from reading the Vatican’s daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano that Francis had overturned one of the former pope’s most important liturgical decisions and reimposed restrictions on the Old Latin celebration Operation.
Days later, the Vatican was shaken again by the death of another conservative general, Cardinal George Pell, and revelations that Pell was the author of a damning memo released last year that called Francis’ pontificate a “disaster” and a “disaster.” . .”
The memo, which was originally published under the pseudonym “Demos,” listed the problems it saw in the Vatican under Francis, from its precarious finances to the pontiff’s preaching style, and issued bullet points on what a future pope should do to to correct them.
Francis acknowledged Pell’s criticism but continued to praise him for being his “right hand” in reforming the Vatican’s finances as his first finance minister.
“Although they say he criticized me, okay, he has the right. Criticism is a human right,” Francis said. But she added: “He was a lovely guy. Large.”