Pope discusses his health, his critics and the future of the pontiff

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis says he’s not considering issuing norms to regulate future papal resignations and plans to last as long as possible during his reign as bishop of Rome, despite criticism from some senior conservative cardinals and bishops. waves of criticism about his papal priorities.

in his first interview With the death of Pope Benedict XVI, who has retired since Dec. 31, Francis spoke about his critics, his health and the next phase of his papacy, which marks the 10th anniversary of his inauguration in March, without Ben in the background Nedict’s shadow.

Francis’ comments Tuesday at the Vatican hotel where he lives come at a particularly difficult time as the pope faces opposition from conservatives to his insistence on making the Catholic Church a more welcoming and inclusive place – a criticism he sees as Equivalent to the pope’s ten-year itch.

“For the sake of tranquility, you would prefer that they not criticize,” Francis told The Associated Press“But I prefer that they do it because it means free speech.”

Some commentators believe Francis may now operate more freely following Benedict’s deathOthers argue that any kind of church peace is over and that Francis is now more open to criticism, depriving Benedict of the moderating influence he exerted in keeping the conservative Catholic fringe.

Francis acknowledged that the knives were running out, but seemed almost optimistic about it.

“I wouldn’t associate it with Benedict, but because of the wear and tear of 10 years of government,” Francis said of his critics. He reasoned that his election was initially met with “surprise” by a South American pope. Then came the discomfort, “when they started seeing my flaws and didn’t like them,” he says of his detractors.

“The only thing I’m asking is that they do it in front of me, because that’s how we all grow up, right?” he added.

Meanwhile, the Pope said he was in good health, had healed without surgery from a minor fracture to his knee from the fall, and was ready to continue his agenda.

“I’m in good health. I’m normal for my age,” said the 86-year-old pope, though he revealed that diverticular disease, or bulges in the bowel wall, had “recurred.”Francis to have 33cm (13in) of large intestine removed in 2021 after what the Vatican says is narrowing his colon due to inflammation.

“I could die tomorrow, but everything is under control. I’m in good health,” he says, with typical sarcastic humor.

Speculation about Francis’ health and future of the papacy only increased after Benedict’s deathhis 2013 resignation marked a turning point for the Catholic Church, as he was the first pope to retire in six centuries.

Francis praised Benedict as an “old-fashioned gentleman” and said of his death: “I lost a father.”

“For me, he was a kind of insurance. When I had a question, I would ask for a car and go to the Abbey and ask,” he said of going to Benedict’s retirement home for counseling. “I’ve lost a good mate.”

Some cardinals and church lawyers say the Vatican must issue norms to regulate future papal retirements to prevent hiccups during Benedict’s unexpectedly long retirement, during which he remains a number of refusing to recognize Francis’ legitimacy A reference point for conservatives and traditionalists.

From the name Benedict chose (pope emeritus) to the (white) robes he wore to his occasional public remarks (about priestly celibacy and sexual abuse), these commentators say the norm must make it clear there is only one pope bit For the unity of the church.

Francis said he didn’t even think about releasing such a specification.

“I’m telling the truth,” he said, adding that the Vatican needs more experience with pope retirements before it proceeds to “regulate or regulate” them.

Francis has said Benedict “opens the door” to a future resignation, which he would also consider. He reiterated on Tuesday that if he resigns, he will be named bishop emeritus of Rome and will live in the residence of retired priests of the diocese of Rome.

Francis said Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican gardens was a “good middle ground solution,” but a future retiring pope might want to do things differently.

“As Pope, he’s still ‘enslaved’, isn’t he?” Francis said. “Or the pope’s vision, or a system. The correct meaning of the word ‘slave’: because he is not quite free, because he would love to go back to his Germany and continue his studies of theology.”

By one calculation, Benedict’s death removed a major obstacle to Francis’ resignation, as the two pensioner popes were never an option. But Francis said Benedict’s death did not change his calculations. “I didn’t even think about writing a will,” he said.

As for his own immediate future, Francis emphasized his role as “bishop of Rome” rather than pope, saying of his plans: “Continue to be bishop, bishop of Rome in communion with all bishops of the world.” He Said he wanted to shelve the notion of the pope as a power player or papal “court”.

Francis also addressed the sudden public criticism of cardinals and bishops in the weeks after Benedict’s death, saying it was unpleasant — “it kind of bothers you like a rash” — but it was better than secrecy . Francis has been attacked for years by conservatives and traditionalists who oppose his social justice priorities, such as poverty, immigration and the environment.

“If it doesn’t, there’s a dictatorship of distance, like I said, where the emperor is there and nobody can tell him anything. No, let them talk, because…criticism helps you grow and improve ,”He said.

The first salvo of the latest attack From Archbishop George Gainswain, Benedict’s long-time secretary, who laid bare the accumulated hatred of the past 10 years in a memoir published days after Benedict’s funeral.

In one of the most explosive parts, Gaenswein reveals that Benedict learned from reading the Vatican daily L’Osservatore Romano that Francis had overturned one of the most important liturgical decisions of the previous Pope and reimposed restrictions on celebrating the old Latin Mass .

Days later, the Vatican was rattled again by the death of another staunch conservative cardinal, George Pell, and revealed that Pell was the author of a devastating memo that circulated last year that said Pope Francis’ inauguration was a ‘disaster’ and a ‘catastrophe'”

The memo, originally published under the pseudonym “Demos,” lays out what it sees problems with the Vatican under Francis, from its shaky finances to the pope’s preaching style, and issues bullet points for how future popes should address them .

Francis acknowledged Pell’s criticism but still praised him as his “right-hand man” in reforming the Vatican’s finances as his first economy minister.

“Even if they say he criticizes me, well, he has a right. Criticism is a human right,” Francis said. But he added: “He’s a good guy. Great.”

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