Pope Francis assured this Saturday that he did not rule out resigning from the pontificate, although he made it clear that he did not plan to do so for the moment. “Changing the pope wouldn’t be a disaster,” the Argentine pontiff told reporters who accompanied him on the flight back to Rome from Canada, where he spent six days with a busy schedule. “The door is open, that’s one of the normal options, but until today I haven’t knocked on that door, I haven’t said, ‘I’m going to come into this room.’ I didn’t want to think about that possibility. But that doesn’t mean the day after tomorrow I won’t start thinking about it,” he said.
Bergoglio, 85, also admitted that knee problems prevent him from walking and force him to reduce his activity, especially due to the hectic pace of papal trips. “I don’t think I can go at the same pace as before. I think that at my age and with this limitation [la lesión de rodilla] I must reserve strength to be able to serve the Church. Or I could also consider the possibility of stepping down, which honestly would not be a disaster, since the pope can be changed without any problem,” he stressed.
In Canada, the pope kept to the planned schedule, with visits to three regions, although he used a wheelchair and was seen tired and struggling to get up. “I have to limit these efforts a bit”, he admitted before specifying that his intention is “to continue to travel and to be close to people”, because for him it is “a way of serving”. Francis has a trip to Kazakhstan on the agenda in mid-September and plans to visit Ukraine in the coming weeks. “I have all the good will, but let’s see what the leg says,” he added.
While official medical reports from the Holy See are limited and contain little explanation, the pope spoke about his health issues in the first person and explained that due to an anesthesia problem, he cannot will not undergo surgery to remedy his knee pain, caused by acute knee pain due to cartilage wear, and a microfracture resulting from poor posture due to a ligament problem. “Experts say it’s operable, but the problem is the anesthesia. I was under anesthesia for over six hours in July last year and it left me with scars that still last today. You can’t mess with anesthesia. That’s why this operation is not suitable for me,” Francisco pointed out in reference to the colon operation he underwent last year.
In recent weeks, speculation has swirled about a possible resignation of the pope, not only because of knee problems which left him in a wheelchair and forced, among other things, to cancel his ambitious trip to South Sudan and the Republic Democratic Republic of the Congo which was scheduled for the beginning of this month. Also because in August he convened a large consistory with which he will definitively ensure that the majority of the college of cardinals who will elect the next pontiff – and will decide the future of the Church – has been appointed by him. Another fact that has also fueled suspicion is the visit he planned to the Italian city of L’Aquila that same month to take part in the celebration of Pardon, a ceremony instituted by Celestine V, the first pope to resign his functions, in 1294, and which inspired Benedict XVI for his historic resignation. He made the decision at the age of 85, shortly after confirming during a visit to Mexico in 2012 that the forces were not accompanying him to continue making apostolic journeys, an essential task for the pontiffs.
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Francisco and his inner circle have always denied plans to quit, but on this occasion Bergoglio himself spoke openly about the subject for the first time and hinted that the time might be a little closer. “This ultimate decision will be dictated by the will of the Lord. If the Lord tells you that you have to go around the corner, you go around the corner,” he stressed. However, he clarified that he had not yet felt “this call”.
The pope acknowledged that the trip to Canada, with many internal displacements, was a test of his strength. “It’s true that we can’t make trips in this state, maybe we need to change the style a bit, reduce, pay the debts of the trips that still remain to be done, reorganize…”, said he pointed out. The pontiff traveled to the North American country to apologize for abuses by the Catholic Church in boarding schools for indigenous communities during the 19th and 20th centuries, under a state policy known as the name of “forced assimilation”.
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