In a 90-minute talk Saturday afternoon, conducted in Italian in the absence of aides, the 85-year-old pontiff also reiterated his condemnation of abortion following a US Supreme Court ruling last month.
Rumors circulated in the media that a combination of events in late August, including meetings with the world’s cardinals to discuss a new constitution for the Vatican, an inauguration ceremony for new cardinals, and a visit to the Italian city of L’Aquila, could herald a resignation.
L’Aquila is associated with Pope Celestine V, who left the papacy in 1294. Pope Benedict XVI visited the city four years before he retired in 2013, the first pope to do so in about 600 years.
But Francis, warily and casually discussing a wide range of international and ecclesiastical issues throughout the interview, shrugged off the idea.
“All these coincidences have led some to think that there will be the same “liturgy,” he said. “But that never crossed my mind. Not at the moment, not at the moment. Truth!”
However, Francis reiterated his oft-stated position that he might someday retire if failing health made it impossible for him to govern the church, which was almost unthinkable before Benedict XVI.
Asked when he thought it might be, he replied, “We don’t know. God will say.”
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 have to miss a trip to Canada from 24 to 30 July if he didn’t agree Another 20 days of therapy and rest for his right knee.
He said the decision to cancel his trip to Africa caused him “a lot of suffering”, especially as he wanted to promote peace in both countries.
Francis used a cane as he entered the reception area on the first 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 Francis’ favorite paintings: “Mary Untying the Knots”, created around 1700 by the German Joachim Schmidtner.
When asked how he was, dad joked: “I’m still alive!”
He spoke publicly for the first time about his condition, saying he suffered a “small fracture” of his knee when he took a wrong step due to ligament inflammation.
“I’m fine, I’m slowly getting better,” he said, adding that the fracture had healed with laser and magnetic therapy.
Francis also dismissed rumors that he was diagnosed with cancer a year ago when he underwent a six-hour operation to remove part of his colon due to diverticulitis, which is common among older people.
“She (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 called “court gossip.”
But he said he didn’t want to have knee surgery because the general anesthesia during last year’s surgery had negative side effects.
Papal trip to Moscow?
Speaking about the situation in Ukraine, Francis noted that there were contacts between the Secretary of State of the Vatican, 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 denounced Russia’s invasion of Ukraine; last Thursday he implicitly accused him of waging a “cruel and senseless war of aggression”.
When the Vatican first asked about the trip a few months ago, Francis said Moscow replied that now was not the right time.
But he hinted that now something could change.
“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 is possible, after I return from Canada, perhaps I will be able to go to Ukraine”, he said. “The first thing to do is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to visit both capitals.”
Asked about the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling overturning the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling establishing a woman’s right to an abortion, Francis said he respects the decision but doesn’t have enough information to speak about it from a legal standpoint.
But he strongly condemned abortion, comparing it to “hiring a hitman.” The Catholic Church teaches that life begins at conception.
“I ask: is it legal, is it right to destroy human life to solve the problem?”
Francis was asked about the debate in the United States over whether a Catholic politician who personally opposes abortion but supports the right of others to choose should be allowed to receive the sacrament.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, for example, was barred from receiving it there by the conservative archbishop of her home diocese of San Francisco, but she regularly takes communion in the Washington, DC parish. Last week, she took communion at a Papal Mass at the Vatican.
“When the Church loses her pastoral nature, when a bishop loses his pastoral nature, it causes a political problem,” the Pope said. – That’s all I can say.