January 31, 2023

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Pope Francis is helped by his aide Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, left, as he walks with a cane to his weekly general audience in St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, on June 1. Pope Francis has revealed in an interview published Sunday that shortly after being elected pontiff in 2013 he wrote a resignation letter in case medical problems impede him from carrying out duties.

The pope wrote a note of his resignation in the event of a health impairment

Pope Francis is assisted by his aide Monsignor Leonardo Sapienza, left, as he walks with a cane before his weekly public audience in St. Peter’s Square, Vatican, on June 1. Elected pope in 2013, he wrote his letter of resignation in the event of medical problems preventing him from carrying out his duties. (Gregorio Borgia, The Associated Press)

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ROME – Pope Francis revealed in an interview published on Sunday that shortly after he was elected pope in 2013 he wrote his letter of resignation in the event of medical problems that prevented him from performing his duties.

Speaking to the Spanish newspaper ABC, Francis said he handed the note over to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was then the Vatican’s foreign minister. The Pope added that he assumes that the bishop currently holding the position of Vatican Number 2, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, now has the written instructions.

Francis, who turned 86 on Saturday, had surgery in 2021 to repair a bowel stenosis and has been suffering from knee pain that has seen him use a wheelchair for months. Recently, he has increasingly used a cane instead of a wheelchair to get around in public.

Asked what happens if health problems or accidents suddenly leave the pope unable to do his job, and whether there should be a rule for such cases, Francis replied, “In practice there really is a rule.”

“I have already signed my abdication,” Francis revealed, indicating that he did so early in the papacy.

“I signed it and said: If I become disabled for medical reasons or anything else, here is my resignation,” he said, referring to Cardinal Bertone, who resigned as foreign minister in October 2013. In the first months of Francis’ papacy.

Now that he has revealed the existence of his memorandum of resignation, Pope quipped, “Someone will go up to Bertone (say), ‘Give me that piece of paper’.”

Francis said he was sure Bertone would have passed on the message to the current foreign minister, Parolin.

In earlier statements, Francis has praised the decision of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, to resign because he felt that due to age he would not be able to carry out his duties better. Benedict, who lives in a monastery on Vatican grounds, was the first pope in 600 years to resign, and his abdication paved the way for Francis’ election as the first pope from South America.

In the interview, Francis downplayed his mobility challenge, saying “one rules by the head, not the knee.”

Catholic Church law requires that a papal resignation must be “manifested freely and properly” – as was the case when Benedict stunned the world when he announced his resignation to an assembly of bishops in the Vatican in February 2013.

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