Pope Francis has denied that he considered resigning due to ill-health as various media outlets, citing an unnamed source in Argentina, had reported. “I don’t know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign…. It didn’t even cross my mind,” he told COPE, the radio network run by the Spanish Episcopal Conference, in the first interview he has given since his July 4 operation.
He said he learned about the rumors of his resignation from Eva Fernandez, COPE’s Vatican correspondent, and commented with humor, “Whenever a pope is ill, there is always a breeze or hurricane of conclave!”
“I don’t know where they got it from last week that I was going to resign…. It didn’t even cross my mind,” Pope Francis said.
The 90-minute interview was broadcast this morning, September 1. COPE provided a Spanish transcript with an English translation. This article focuses on some of the issues the pope addressed.
A Nurse Saved His Life
Francis revealed that a nurse, “a very experienced man” who has worked at the Vatican’s health service for 30 years, “saved my life.” He said the nurse told him that he needed surgery even when others advocated that it was “better [to treat it] with antibiotics.” Francis remarked that “it is the second time in my life that a nurse has saved my life.” Italian media identified the nurse as Massimiliano Strappetti, a 52-year-old man, who trained and worked as a nurse at the Gemelli Hospital in Rome before moving to the Vatican, where he also assisted Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI.
He took the nurse’s advice. In the interview, he said, “the diverticula” can “become deformed, necrotic….but thank God it was taken in time.”
Francis confirmed that his entry to hospital on July 4—which occurred just after he finished reciting the Angelus from the papal study window— had been previously scheduled, although his admission had only been publicly announced that afternoon, “when I was already in the preliminaries [for the operation].” He revealed that the doctors removed “33 centimeters” (almost 13 inches) of his intestine. As a result of the operation, the pope said: “Now, I can eat everything, which was not possible before with the diverticula.” Francis said that he is still taking “post-operative medicines” and “started to take things back [at work] little by little.” But said that otherwise, “I lead a totally normal life.”
Francis is scheduled to travel to Budapest, Hungary for the closing of the International Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 12. From there, he will travel to Bratislava, Slovakia for a three-day visit from Sept. 12 to15. However, the pope remains conscious of the demanding nature of that trip, and he admitted that “maybe in this first trip I should be more careful, because one has to recover completely.” However, he added with a laugh that “in the end it will be the same as the others, you will see!”
Francis said that he plans to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, “but it all depends on how I feel at that time.”
Additionally, Francis said that he plans to travel to Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in November, “but it all depends on how I feel at that time.” He recalled that the Paris summit on climate change, which was also sponsored by the UN in December 2015, brought global awareness to the ecological crisis. However, he said that after the 2015 conference, “fear set in,” and “in subsequent meetings they went backwards.” In contrast, he hopes the Glasgow meeting “will now raise its sights a bit and bring us more in line.”
He also said that he hopes to visit Greece, Cyprus and Malta later this year. Vatican sources say the visit is scheduled to take place in early December,
Afghanistan was at the center of world attention when the interview took place, and Carlos Herrera, the COPE presenter, asked the pope whether the Vatican could “pull diplomatic strings” to try to prevent reprisals against the Afghan population or to help in other ways. Francis said he was “sure” that the Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Pietro Parolin—whom Francis described as “the best diplomat I have ever met”—is working with his team to this end, or “at least offering to help.”
He described the situation in Afghanistan as “difficult.” “As a pastor,” he said, “I believe I must call Christians to a special prayer at this time. It is true that we live in a world of wars—think of Yemen—but this is something very special, it has another meaning. So, I am going to ask for what the church always asks for in times of great difficulty and crisis: more prayer and fasting. Prayer, penance and fasting, which is what is asked for in moments of crisis.” (Francis also appealed in similar terms when he addressed pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square on Aug. 29, soon after the interview was conducted.)
Francis described Angela Merkel as “one of the great figures of world politics.”
He revealed that he was “touched” by remarks made by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, on Aug. 20, in Moscow when she stated: “It is necessary to put an end to the irresponsible policy of intervening from outside and building democracy in other countries, ignoring the tradition of the peoples.” Francis said he felt “wisdom” in Merkel’s words, and described her as “one of the great figures of world politics.”
Francis thought he was quoting Angela Merkel, but the words were spoken last month by Russian president Vladamir Putin in the presence of Ms. Merkel, during her visit to Moscow.
The pope also offered some reflections on the U.S.’s decision to quit Afghanistan. “The fact of leaving is legitimate,” he said. But he added enigmatically: “The echo it has in me is something else.” As for leaving Afghans to their fate, Francis wondered whether “the way to withdraw, the way to negotiate a way out” was “right.” But, aware of the complexities involved, he added: “I don’t want to judge.”
When asked about experiencing disappointments in his own life, Francis in his answer went way beyond the personal dimension. He said, “disappointments are like emergency landings in life…the point is to get up…. I believe that in the face of war, in the face of a defeat, even in the face of one’s own disappointment, or one’s own failure, or one’s own sin, one must get up and not remain fallen.”
Vatican Finances and Corruption
When Carlos Herrera, the COPE interviewer, asked how corruption can be avoided in Vatican finances, Francis responded, “we have to do everything we can to avoid it.” But he said that corruption is “an old story” that goes back to the time of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus, Cardinal Edmund Szoka and others. “It’s a disease we relapse into,” he added, but “today progress has been made in the consolidation of justice in the Vatican State, especially in the last three years.” He recalled how the internal systems are working, as evidenced by the fact that two top Vatican authorities denounced corruption, related to the controversial purchase of a London property, to the proper judicial authorities “at first sight.”
“I’m not afraid of transparency or the truth. Sometimes it hurts, also a lot, but the truth is what sets us free.”
“I’m not afraid of transparency or the truth. Sometimes it hurts, also a lot, but the truth is what sets us free,” he said.
When queried about the situation of Cardinal Angelo Becciu, his former close collaborator, Francis said that Cardinal Angelo Becciu, who was indicted as part of the scandal, will be judged impartially “He goes to trial according to Vatican law.” Nonetheless, “I hope with all my heart that he is innocent.
“I want everything to turn out well,” he said. “In any case, justice will decide.”
Reform of the Curia
Francis spoke much about the reform of the Roman Curia in the interview. He recalled that the cardinals asked for reforms of the Curia in meetings before the 2013 papal conclave. Following his surprise election as pope, he sought to incorporate their requests in his programmatic document, “Evangelii Gaudium” (“The Joy of the Gospel”). Much has been achieved so far, he said, but there is more restructuring to come. Forthcoming tasks include “the joining together” of the Congregation for Catholic Education with the Pontifical Council for Culture, as well as merging the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples with the Pontifical Council for Promoting the New Evangelization.
Francis said that the new constitution for the Roman Curia, “Praedicate Evangelium” (“Preach the Gospel”), was delayed due to his operation, but “it is nearly finished.” He gave no date for its publication.
Protection of Minors
In speaking about the church’s efforts to eliminate the abuse of minors by clergy, Francis began by paying tribute to Cardinal Seán O’Malley, the archbishop of Boston, who he described as “a man who began to speak about this with courage, even though he was a thorn in the side of the [church] organization.” He praised the cardinal for creating the Commission for the Protection of Minors The pope recalled the 2019 Vatican summit in which the presidents of dozens of episcopal conferences from around the world gathered to discuss the church’s response to sexual abuse. “Progress has been made, and more and more progress is being made” to address this whole abuse issue, he said, which is “a global and serious problem.”
The interview also touched on the issue of challenges from within the church against the Vatican’s decision to renew an agreement with China on the appointment of bishops in mainland China. Francis said that “it is licit [to challenge the approach] if it is done with good will.”
On China: “I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue.”
He acknowledged that “the China [question] is not easy.” But he added: “I am convinced that we should not give up dialogue. You can be deceived in dialogue, you can make mistakes, all that…. But it is the way. Closed-mindedness is never the way.”
Francis asserted that “what has been achieved so far in China was at least [due] to dialogue…. Some concrete things like the appointment of new bishops, slowly.”
He revealed that he has been “inspired” and “helped” in this work by the late Cardinal Agostino Casaroli (1914-1998), a top Vatican diplomat who negotiated with regimes hostile to the church in Eastern Europe in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s. “Casaroli was the man that John XXIII commissioned to build bridges with central Europe,” Francis said. The cardinal, who recounted his experiences in a book called The Martyrdom of Patience, described how the dialogue involved “small step after small step, creating bridges….” Francis said that “today, somehow, we have to follow these paths of dialogue, step by step in the most conflictive situations.”
Along these lines Francis recalled his own “very positive” experience of dialogue with Islam. He said that his conversations with Ahmed al-Tayed, who serves as the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, was “the germ” of his encyclical “Fratelli Tutti.” The pope emphasized how important it is “to dialogue, to dialogue always, or to be willing to dialogue.”
How Francis would like to be remembered
Asked how he would like to be remembered, Francis replied: “For what I am: a sinner trying to do good.”
This story has been updated.