AP Interview: The Pope on Health, Critics and the Future of the Papacy

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says he has not considered issuing criteria to regulate the resignation of future popes and that while he plans to continue as bishop of Rome, some Despite a wave of attacks by top-ranking cardinals and bishops.

In his first interview since the death of retired Pope Benedict XVI on December 31, Francis addressed his health, his critics and the next phase of his papacy, which marked its 10th anniversary in March without Benedict’s shadow in the background. does.

“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” the 86-year-old pontiff said Tuesday, although he revealed that diverticulosis, or a bulge in the wall of his intestines, “was back.” Francis in 2021 33 centimeters (13 in) of his large intestine was removed because of what the Vatican said was inflammation that caused a narrowing of his colon.

He said that the minor bone fracture in his knee from the fall had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

“I could die tomorrow, but it’s under control. I’m in good health,” he told The Associated Press in his characteristic wry manner.

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

Some commentators believe Francis may be free to maneuver now that Benedict, who has completed his 10-year retirement at the Vatican, is gone. Others suggest that any ecclesiastical peace that might have reigned was gone and that Francis is now exposed to critics, having played a role in marginalizing conservative Catholics deprived of Benedict’s moderating influence.

Francis acknowledged that the knives were out, but seemed almost optimistic about it.

“I wouldn’t link it to Benedict, but to the wear and tear of 10 years of government,” Francis said of his papacy. At first, his election was greeted with a sense of “surprise” about a South American pope, then discomfort “when they started to see my flaws and didn’t like them,” he said.

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

Francis praised Benedict as a “gentleman” and said of his death: “I lost a father.”

“For me, that was a safeguard. In case of any doubt, I would ask for a car and go to the monastery and ask,” he said of his visits to Benedict’s retirement home for counsel. “I lost a good friend.”

Some cardinals and canon lawyers have said that the Vatican should issue norms to regulate future papal retirements to prevent some of the hiccups that occurred during Benedict’s unexpectedly long retirement, during which he has been the mainstay of some conservatives and traditionalists. remained a reference point who refused to recognize the legitimacy of Francis. ,

From the name Benedict chose (emeritus pope) to the (white) cassock he wore for his occasional public comments (on priestly celibacy and sexual abuse), these commentators said the criteria should make it clear that there is only one way to unite The Pope is the ruler of the Church.

Francis said that it had not even crossed his mind to issue such a rule.

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said, adding that the Vatican needed more experience with papal retirement before “regulating or regulating” it.

Francis has said that Benedict “opened the door” for future resignations, and that he too would consider stepping down. He reiterated on Tuesday that if he resigns, he will be called Bishop Emeritus of Rome and will live in the residence of retired priests in the Diocese of Rome.

Francis said Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good intermediate solution”, but the future retired pope might want something different.

“He was still a ‘slave’ as a pope, no?” Francis said. “The vision of a pope, of a system. ‘slave’ in the good sense of the word: in this he was not entirely free, as he would have preferred to return to his Germany and continue his study of theology.”

By one reckoning, Benedict’s death removes the main obstacle to Francis resigning, as the prospect of two pensioner popes was never an option. But Francis said Benedict’s death had not changed his calculus. He said, ‘The thought of writing a will never crossed my mind.’

For his own immediate future, Francis emphasized his role as “Bishop of Rome” as opposed to pontiff and said of his plans: “Continue to be bishop, Bishop of Rome with all the bishops of the world.” ” He stated that he wanted to put to rest the concept of the papacy as a power player or papal “court”.

Francis also addressed the criticism of cardinals and bishops who have erupted publicly in the weeks following Benedict’s death, saying it is unpleasant – “like a rash that bothers you a little” – but that he wanted to wrap it up. Better to keep in

“You prefer not to be criticized for peace,” Francis said. “But I prefer they do because it means there is freedom of speech.”

“If it isn’t, there will be a dictatorship of distance, as I call it, where the emperor is there and no one can tell him anything. No, let them speak because … criticism helps you grow and make things better.” helps.’

The first in a wave of attacks came from Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Ganswein, who revealed the bad blood accumulated over the past 10 years in a tell-all memoir published days after Benedict’s funeral.

In one of the most explosive sections, Ganswein revealed that Benedict learned by reading L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s daily newspaper, that Francis had overturned one of the former pope’s most important liturgical rulings and on celebrating the Old Latin Mass. was banned.

A few days later, the Vatican was rocked again by the death of another conservative stalwart, Cardinal George Pell, and revelations that Pell was the author of a devastating memo that had been circulated the previous year that Francis Pont Cert described as a “disaster” and Said “catastrophe”. ,

The memo, which was initially published under the pseudonym “Demos”, listed all the problems at the Vatican under Francis, from its precarious finances to the pontiff’s preaching style, and urged the future pope to fix them. Issued bullet points for what to do.

Francis acknowledged Pell’s criticism but still praised him for being his “right hand” on reforming Vatican finances as his first economy minister.

“Even if they say he criticized me, well, he has a right. Criticism is a human right,” Francis said. But he added: “He was a great man. Great.”

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