Pope Francis has admitted that he prepared a resignation letter in 2013 shortly after being elected pontiff in case medical issues prevented him from conducting his duties.
The resignation was a contingency plan. Francis replaced his predecessor, Benedict XVI after the latter resigned due to advanced age. Benedict XVI was the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415. Most popes remain in office until their deaths.
Pope Francis has had health issues with his knees and required bowel surgery in 2021, but continues to conduct his papal duties.
Pope Francis mentioned the contingency plan during an interview with the Spanish newspaper ABC. The Pope was asked what would happen if he was incapacitated by health issues, to which he responded that he had “already signed my renunciation.”
“I signed it and said: ‘If I should become impaired for medical reasons or whatever, here is my resignation. Here you have it,'” he told the Spanish tabloid.
The Pope added that the letter was given to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was then the Vatican secretary of state. “In practice there is already a rule,” he said.
“I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone gave it to, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State,” the Pope added, although he expects that Bertone passed the note on to the new Secretary of State Pietro Parolin.
Francis recalled that one of his predecessors, Paul VI, who held the Papacy between 1963 and 1978, also prepared a resignation letter as a contingency plan in case his health failed. Ultimately, Paul VI died whilst in office.
Throughout Papal history, the Bishop of Rome has traditionally remained in office until death. Only six popes have resigned in the Catholic Church’s history.
Pope Francis’ health
Jorge Mario Bergoglio became was elected to the papacy at the age of 76, on March 13, 2013. He took the name Francis after Saint Francis of Assisi. He is now 86.
Pope Francis has had some health issues since taking office in Rome. Earlier this year he was forced to cancel a visit to Africa due to medical treatment he was receiving for his knee.
In June, a Vatican spokesperson announced that the Pope’s planned visit to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan would have to be canceled “at the request of his doctors in order not to jeopardize the results of the therapy that he is undergoing for his knee.”
In 2021, Pope Francis required surgery to remove the left part of his colon. Doctors said that his bowel had narrowed, causing painful symptoms, which necessitated the removal of a portion of the colon.
Business as usual
Despite a number of health issues, the Pope has remained busy with his Papal duties. During the ABC interview, he mentioned a number of these duties, including the Vatican’s diplomatic efforts.
When asked why the Vatican was cautious on speaking out against totalitarian regimes, Pope Francis answered, “The Holy See always tries to safeguard peoples…through dialogue and diplomacy. 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.”
He also commented on the Ukraine War, saying “What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is enormous cruelty. It is very serious. And this is what I decry continuously.”