Pope Francis at his weekly General Audience  (ANSA)

By Salvatore Cernuzio

Dec 19 2022

In an interview with the Spanish daily ABC, Pope Francis reveals that at the beginning of his pontificate he gave the then-Secretary of State, Cardinal Bertone, a letter declaring he would step down in the event of serious and permanent health impediments that made it impossible for him to exercise his role as Bishop of Rome and pastor of the universal Church.

At the beginning of his pontificate in 2013 when Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone was still Secretary of State, Pope Francis handed in a resignation letter “in case of impediment due to health reasons.” Revealing this decision, which Pope Paul VI had also taken during his time, Pope Francis spoke about this matter in a wide-ranging interview granted to the Spanish daily ABC. The full interview appeared on Sunday with previews posted a day earlier.

The Pope met with the newspaper’s editor, Julián Quirós, and its Vatican correspondent, Javier Martínez-Brocal, when he addressed numerous topics on current events regarding the life of the Church and the world.

The conversations touched on the war in Ukraine, where the Pope said he does not see “a short-term end to it since it is a world war,” the cases of abuse by clergy, the role of women in the Roman Curia (where he says “within two years a woman will head a Dicastery”), Benedict XVI’s 2013 resignation, and his own possible resignation.

Resignation letter

The Pope spoke about the existence of his letter of resignation, saying “I have already signed my resignation. It was when Tarcisio Bertone was Secretary of State. I signed the resignation and told him: ‘In case of a health impediment or whatever, here is my resignation. You have it’. I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone gave it to, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State.” The two ABC interviewers asked if the Pope wished this to be known, and the Pope said, “that’s why I’m telling you,” recalling that Paul VI had also left his resignation in writing in the event of health issues, and Pius XII had probably done so as well. “This is the first time I am saying this,” the Pope adds. “Now maybe someone will go and ask Cardinal Bertone to ‘give me that letter’ (the Pope said jokingly)… surely (Cardinal Bertone) will have given it to the new Secretary of State.” 

War in Ukraine

The interview also focuses on the ongoing war in Ukraine against which the Pope has spoken out more than a hundred times. He also states bluntly: “What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is enormous cruelty. It is very serious…”

The Pope sees no short-term end to the war on the horizon: “This is a world war. Let us not forget that. There are already several hands involved in the war. It is global. I think a war is fought when an empire starts to weaken, and when there are weapons to use, to sell and to test. It seems to me that there are many interests involved.” The Pope has spoken out against the war more than a hundred times, saying, “I do what I can. They don’t listen,” adding, “What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is enormous cruelty. It is very serious. And this is what I decry continuously.” The Pope confirms his openness in receiving and listening to everyone: “Now Volodymir Zelensky has sent me one of his religious advisors for the third time. I am in contact, I receive people, I help…”

 [ Photo Embed: Interview of Pope Francis by Spanish daily ABC]

Vatican diplomacy

Pope Francis own outreach goes hand in hand with the Holy See’s diplomatic efforts. On this topic, the ABC interviewers asked why the Vatican is so cautious in speaking out against totalitarian regimes. “The Holy See always tries to safeguard peoples…through dialogue and diplomacy,” Pope Francis replies. “The Holy See never goes it alone…It always tries to safeguard diplomatic relations and to save what can be saved with patience and dialogue.”

Abuse cases

Answering a question on the cases of sexual abuse by the clergy, the Pope says, “it is very painful, very painful,” when referring to his meetings with victims that have taken place during his pontificate. “These are people who have been destroyed by those who should have helped them mature and grow up. This is very difficult. Even if there were only one case, it is horrendous, and that a person who should lead you to God destroys you on this path.”

Role of women

The ABC interview then focuses on topics of a more ‘ecclesial’ nature, starting with possible leadership roles for women in the Roman Curia. “There will be,” Francis says assuredly. “I have someone in mind for a Dicastery where a position will be available in two years. There is no obstacle to a woman leading a Dicastery where a lay person can be prefect. If it is a Dicastery of a sacramental nature, it must be presided over by a priest or a bishop,” the Pope explained.

Future Conclaves

The Pope then addressed the debate over how the work of future Conclaves could be made difficult given that the new cardinals he has created do not know each other well and come from different and distant places. The Pope said it is true that there could be issues “from the human point of view”, but “it is the Holy Spirit who is at work in the conclave.” The Pope then recalled a proposal of a German cardinal during the August meetings on Praedicate Evangelium “that in the election of a new Pope, only cardinals living in Rome should participate”. The Pope then asked rhetorically, “is this the universality of the Church?” 

Benedict XVI: a saint, a great man

Speaking on the relationship with his predecessor Benedict XVI, Pope Francis described him as “a saint” and “a man of great spiritual life”, revealing that he visits with him often and always feels “edified” by his transparent gaze. “He has a good sense of humour, he is lucid, very alive, he speaks softly but follows the conversation. I admire his lucidity. He is a great man’. Pope Francis, on the other hand, says he has no intention of defining the juridical status of Pope emeritus: “I have the feeling that the Holy Spirit does not have interest that I deal with these matters.”

Church in Germany

Regarding the Church in Germany, grappling with the synodal process that has generated and still generates various reactions, even negative ones, Pope Francis recalls the “very clear” letter he wrote in June 2019: “I wrote it on my own. It took me a month. It was a letter as if to say: ‘Brothers, reflect on this’.

Visit to Marseilles

During the interview conversations, the Pope mentioned that he has a journey planned to Marseilles for the ‘Mediterranean Encounter’, noting that it is not a trip to France per se and that the priority for his apostolic journeys has been to visit the smaller countries of Europe.

Asked about the issue of Catalonia, the Pope said that “each country must find its own historical path to solve these problems. There is no single solution.” He then cites the case of North Macedonia or South Tyrol, in Italy, with its own status. As for the role that the Church should maintain in this matter, he emphasises instead: ‘What the Church cannot do is to be a propaganda voice for one side or the other, but yes to accompany the people so that they can find a definitive solution.” In the same vein, the Pope recalls that: “When a priest meddles in politics, it is not good…. The priest is a pastor. He must help people to make good choices. Accompany them. But not to be a politician. If you want to be a politician, leave the priesthood and become a politician.”

Motu Proprio on Opus Dei

In conclusion, when asked about last July’s Motu Proprio Ad Charisma tuendum on Opus Dei, the Pope said that the document addressed an area that needed to be redefined and resolved. It was not a disciplinary measure or takeover, as some have claimed. “Please. I am a great friend of Opus Dei, I love the people of Opus Dei very much and they work well in the Church. The good they do is very great.”

Abbreviated translation from original Italian article  – Vatican News