VATICAN CITY –
Pope Francis has dismissed reports that he plans to resign in the near future, saying he is on his way to visit Canada this month and hopes 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 had cancer, joked that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it” and for the first time gave details of the knee condition that has prevented him from doing some homework.
In a 90-minute conversation Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian, with no attendees present, the 85-year-old pontiff also repeated his condemnation of abortion following the US Supreme Court ruling last month.
Rumors swirled in the media that a conjunction of events in late August, including meetings with cardinals from around the world to discuss a new Vatican constitution, a ceremony to swear in new cardinals, and a visit to the Italian city of L’ Aquila, could herald a resignation announcement.
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 throughout the interview as he discussed a wide range of Church and international issues, laughed at the idea.
“All these coincidences made some think the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” he said. “But it never crossed my mind. Not at the moment, not at the moment. Really!”
Francis, however, repeated his oft-stated position that he might one day resign if ill health made it impossible for him to lead the Church, something that had been almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
When 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 the Congo and South Sudan, a trip he had to cancel because doctors said he might also miss a trip to Canada from July 24-30 unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee.
He said the decision to cancel the trip to Africa had caused him “a lot of suffering”, particularly because he wanted to promote peace in both countries.
Francis used a cane as he entered a reception room on the ground floor of the Santa Marta guest house, where he has lived since his election in 2013, avoiding the papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace used by his predecessors.
The room has a copy of one of Francisco’s favorite paintings: “Mary, Untying Knots”, created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmidtner.
When asked how he was doing, the pope joked: “I’m still alive!”
He gave details of his ailment for the first time in public, saying he had suffered “a small fracture” in his knee when he took a wrong step while a ligament was inflamed.
“I’m fine, little by little I’m getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture was closing, helped by laser and magnetic therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that he had been found to have cancer a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon due to diverticulitis, a common condition in the elderly.
“It (the operation) 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 didn’t want an operation on his knee because the general anesthesia in last year’s surgery had had bad side effects.
POPE’S TRIP TO MOSCOW?
Speaking of the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there have been contacts between Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about a possible trip to Moscow.
The initial signs were not good. No pope has ever visited Moscow, and Francis has repeatedly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he implicitly accused him of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”.
When the Vatican first inquired about a trip several months ago, Francis said Moscow responded that the time was not right.
But he hinted that now something may have changed.
“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 gave 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’ll be able to 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.”
RULING ON ABORTION
When asked about the United States Supreme Court ruling that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade that establishes a woman’s right to have an abortion, Francisco said that he respected the decision but that he did not have enough information to discuss it from a legal standpoint.
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring a hitman.” The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at the moment of conception.
“I ask: Is it legitimate, is it correct, to take a human life to solve a problem?”
Francis was asked about a debate in the United States over whether a Catholic politician who is personally opposed to abortion but supports the right of others to choose should receive the sacrament of communion.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, for example, has been prevented by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco from receiving him there, but she is given communion regularly at a parish in Washington, DC Last week, received the sacrament at a Papal Mass in the Vatican.
“When the Church loses its pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it creates a political problem,” the pope said. “This is all I can say.”
(Reporting by Philip Pullella; editing by Kevin Liffey)