Faced with rumors that he could step down, Pope Francis denies he has plans to step down as head of the Catholic Church, even though a series of health-related issues have caused the pontiff to alter his travel schedule. He spoke to the Reuters news agency in an interview published on Monday (4).
“It never crossed my mind,” the pope said. Still, he repeated the position adopted on other occasions, when he said that he could resign someday if his health deteriorated to the point of preventing him from directing the church. “We do not know [quando e se isso vai acontecer]; God will tell”, says the 85-year-old religious.
The pontiff also commented on the recent decision of the US Supreme Court that overturned the constitutional right to abortion, guaranteed for almost 50 years. He said he respects the decision, signaling that he does not have the technical knowledge to evaluate it. But he made comments about the termination of pregnancy, which the church opposes.
“The moral question is whether it is right to take a human life to solve a problem. In fact, is it right to hire an assassin to solve a problem?”, the pontiff asked. It’s not the first time he’s made such comments. Four years ago, the pope compared abortion to resorting to a contract killer.
He was also asked about a recent controversy, linked to the more conservative wing of the church in the US, over whether it is right for people who advocate abortion rights to receive communion. The pope had already argued that it was. This time, he said that “when the church loses its pastoral nature, it causes a political problem.”
The controversy began after US bishops tried to prevent President Joe Biden, the second Catholic to assume the White House, from receiving communion, as he defends the maintenance of the right to abortion. Biden and Francisco had a date last October. The US leader said the pope had said he should continue to receive communion, something the Vatican did not comment on.
Francis had to cancel a recent schedule in Africa, where he would visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, due to a recommendation made by his doctors. If he didn’t rest and follow treatment for his right knee, he would also have to cancel a trip to Canada scheduled for later this month.
The pontiff’s visit to the North American country has symbolic significance. The pope formally apologized to the indigenous people of Canada in April for the Catholic Church’s role in religious boarding schools where cases of violence against children and the country’s indigenous culture have been reported.
He also denied rumors that he was diagnosed with cancer a year ago, when he underwent surgery to remove part of his colon, in treatment for diverticular stenosis, a disease in which “bags” form in the muscular layer of the colon, making -the narrowest. “The operation was a great success,” he said. “They didn’t tell me anything” about the supposed cancer, he said, in a wry tone.
Francis also returned to talk about the War in Ukraine, present in many of his speeches, critical of the Russian invasion. He signaled that there is a possibility, after the trip to Canada, to go to Russia and Ukraine, to talk with the leaders Vladimir Putin and Volodymyr Zelensky.
“I would like to go to Ukraine, but I wanted to go to Moscow first.” He recalled that the Vatican Secretary of State asked Russian Chancellor Sergei Lavrov for a possible trip, but that the answer would have been that this was not the right time.
No popes have visited Moscow. The war, however, came to contribute to the fraying of the relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. The Russian institution accused Francis of using the wrong tone when commenting on a previous conversation he had with Patriarch Cyril, an ally of Putin, to talk about the conflict in Eastern Europe.
After the disclosure of the interview, Ukrainian diplomacy reiterated the invitation for the pope to visit Kiev and asked that the religious continue to pray for the people of the country.