- Unsubstantiated rumors fueled reports of an impending resignation
- Pope laughs at cancer rumors: ‘Doctors didn’t tell me’
- Trips to Moscow, Kyiv seem more likely; possibly in September
- On US court ruling, Pope says abortion is ‘hiring a hitman’
VATICAN CITY, July 4 (Reuters) – Pope Francis dismissed reports that he plans to resign in the near future, saying he was on his way to visit Canada this month and hoped to be able to go to Moscow and Kyiv as soon as possible after that.
In an exclusive interview at his Vatican residence, Francis also denied rumors that he has cancer, joking that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it” and for the first time detailing the knee condition that has prevented him from performing some obligations.
In a 90-minute conversation Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian with no aides present, the 85-year-old pontiff also reiterated his condemnation of abortion following last month’s US Supreme Court ruling.
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Rumors circulated in the media that a combination of events in late August, including meetings with the world’s cardinals to discuss a new Vatican constitution, an induction ceremony for new cardinals and a visit to the Italian city of L’Aquila, could herald an announcement of resignation.
L’Aquila is associated with Pope Celestine V, who resigned the papacy in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited the city four years before resigning in 2013, the first pope to do so in some 600 years.
But Francis, alert and calm during the interview as he discussed a wide range of international and church issues, dismissed the idea with a laugh.
“All these coincidences have led some to think that the same ‘mass’ will take place,” he said. “But it never occurred to me. Not for now, not for now. Indeed!’
Francis, however, reiterated his oft-stated position that he could resign someday if failing health made it impossible for him to rule the Church — something that was almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
Asked when he thought that might be, he said: “We don’t know. God will tell.’
The interview took place on the day he was due to leave for the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan, a trip he had to cancel because doctors said he could also miss a trip to Canada from July 24 to 30 unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee. Read more
He said the decision to cancel the trip to Africa had caused him “a lot of distress”, especially as he wanted to promote peace in the two countries. Read more
Francis used a cane as he entered the ground-floor reception room of the Santa Marta guest house, where he has lived since his election in 2013, avoiding the papal suite in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
In the room there is a copy of one of Francis’ favorite paintings: “Mary Untying Knots”, created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmittner.
Asked how he was doing, the Pope joked: “I’m still alive!”
He gave details of his illness publicly for the first time, saying he suffered a “small fracture” in his knee when he took a wrong step while the ligament was inflamed.
“I’m fine, I’m slowly getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture has been patched, helped by laser and magnetic therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that cancer was discovered a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon due to diverticulitis, a condition common in the elderly.
“It (the surgery) was a great success,” he said, adding with a laugh that “they didn’t tell me anything” about the alleged cancer, which he dismissed as “court gossip.”
But he said he did not want surgery on his knee because the general anesthetic for last year’s surgery had negative side effects.
POPE TO MOSCOW?
Speaking about the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there had been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov regarding a possible trip to Moscow.
The initial signs were not good. No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he indirectly accused her of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”. Read more
When the Vatican first asked about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow responded that it was not the right time.
But he hinted that something may have changed now.
“I would like to go (to Ukraine) and I wanted to go to Moscow first. We exchanged messages about this because I thought that if the Russian president would give me a small window to serve the cause of peace…
“And now it’s possible, after I come back from Canada, it’s possible that I can go to Ukraine,” he said. “The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals.”
DECISION ON ABORTION
Asked about the US Supreme Court decision overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade decision establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, Francis said he respected the decision but didn’t have enough information to speak about it from a legal perspective. Read more
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring an assassin”. The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception.
“I ask: Is it legal, is it right to take a human life to solve a problem?
Francis was asked about a debate in the United States about whether a Catholic politician who personally opposes abortion but supports the right to choose others should be allowed to receive the sacrament of communion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, was barred by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco from receiving it there, but regularly receives communion at a parish in Washington, DC. Last week she received communion at a papal Mass in the Vatican. Read more
“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it raises a political problem,” the Pope said. “That’s all I can say.”
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Reporting by Philip Pullella; Editing by Kevin Liffey
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