Wednesday 20 November 2019

Pope Francis: 'I may retire like Benedict'

Pope says 'others may follow' precedent set by Benedict in a newspaper interview in which he reveals he calls an 80-year-old widow every month for a chat

Tom Kington

Pope Francis has said that the Catholic Church should officially grant an active role to retired popes, raising the possibility that he may himself one day choose to follow the precedent set by Pope Benedict, and retire rather than dying in office.

“Benedict is the first, and maybe there will be others. We don’t know,” Francis said in an interview given to Italian daily Corriere della Sera.

Francis also revealed he continues to telephone, out of the blue, people who write to him, including an 80-year-old widow who he calls once a month, and he revealed that he had a crush on a girl while serving in a seminary.

But he also urged his millions of admirers not build a personality cult around him, claiming that depicting the pope as “a sort of superman” is “offensive”.

In the interview, Francis praised the gradual re-emergence of former Pope Benedict, who claimed he would disappear from public view to a life of prayer when he stepped down in February 2013 at the age of 85, becoming the first pontiff to retire in 600 years.

Benedict was greeted warmly by cardinals when he made a surprise appearance at a Vatican concistory in St Peter’s, held to appoint new cardinals last month.

Francis argued that retired popes should have an active role similar to retired bishops, who often continue to represent the Church after they retire at 75.

The position of emeritus bishop, he said, “is an institution,” adding, “The same thing needs to happen for the emeritus pope.”

Francis said Benedict “is discreet, humble and doesn’t want to disturb,” but added, “We spoke and we decided together that it would be better if he saw people, got out and participated in the life of the church.”

Turning to his own popularity and the stories emerging about his informal behaviour, Francis warned his admirers against creating “a certain mythology around Pope Francis,” and denied the story that he creeps out of the Vatican at night to give food to tramps.

On Wednesday, a new Italian weekly magazine was issued devoted to Pope Francis, while graffiti has appeared in Rome depicting Francis as a superhero.

“Portraying the pope as a kind of superman, a type of star, seems offensive,” he said. “The Pope is a man who laughs, cries, sleeps tranquilly and has friends like everyone. A normal person.”

He did however reveal more details about his extraordinary life. Asked if he had ever been in love, Francis referred back to statements he has made about having a girlfriend when he was 17, but added, “At the seminary, a girl turned my head for a week,” adding, “These were the things of young people. I spoke about it with my confessor.”

Asked about his habit of phoning people who write to him, Francis said: “When one calls it is because you want to speak, you have a question to ask, an advice to ask.” He singled out an 80 year old widower, who had lost her son, who he calls once a month. “She is happy and I get to be a priest, which I like.”

Turning to the child abuse scandals which have plagued the church and brought fierce criticism recently from the UN for the way that senior prelates covered up for abusive priests, Francis defended the Church’s behaviour to the hilt.

“The Catholic Church is possibly the only public institution to have acted with transparency and responsibility,” he said. No one else has done more. Yet the Church is the only one to be attacked.”

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News