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ROME – Though giving no indication he plans to retire anytime soon, Pope Francis in a new interview has said he has already signed a letter of resignation in case he is incapacitated and unable to perform his duties.
Speaking to Spanish news site ABC, Pope Francis said “I have already signed my renunciation,” revealing that he penned the document in the early stages of his papacy, when his Secretary of State was still Italian Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who held the role under Benedict XVI and continued to serve in that capacity for the first seven months of Francis’s papacy until October 2013.
In the interview, published Sunday, Francis said he gave Bertone his signed letter of resignation, saying, “If I should become impaired for medical reasons or whatever, here is my renunciation. Here you have it.”
“I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone has given that letter to, but I handed it to him when he was the Secretary of State,” he said, noting that this is not the first time this has been done, as previous popes, including Pope Saint Paul VI and Pope Pious XII, signed similar letters.
The letter from Paul VI has been known for some time, and has generated debate about some canon lawyers about whether a letter signed years in advance by a pontiff, and presumably invoked by someone else in his name, would satisfy the requirement of canon 332 that a papal resignation be submitted “freely” at the time.
Asked whether he has plans, as many have speculated, to issue a decree outlining the role of Pope emeritus due to the ways in which some critics have pitted the statements and writings of his predecessor, retired Pope Benedict XVI, against him, Pope Francis said no.
“I didn’t change a thing, I didn’t even think about doing it,” he said, saying, “Perhaps the Holy Spirit has no interest in me worrying about those things.”
Pope Francis gave another interview to Italian television station Canale5, set to air Sunday night, on “the Christmas that I would like,” in which he is expected to address similar topics.
In his conversation with ABC, the pope spoke about a swath of other issues, including the current situation in Latin and Central America and the clerical abuse crisis, and he repeated his calls for peace in Ukraine, saying, “We do whatever we can. They don’t listen.”
“What is happening in Ukraine is terrifying. There is so much cruelty being deployed. This really is very serious,” he said, saying he does not see an end in sight, “because this is a global war.”
“Let’s not forget this. There are many hands stirring up the war pot. It is global,” he said, voicing his belief that “war is waged when an empire begins to weaken. And when there are weapons to be used, tested and sold. There is a great deal at stake.”
He also touched on recent changes he made to the personal prelature of Opus Dei, stipulating, among other things, that the head of the prelature will be a priest rather than a bishop, and that Vatican supervision of the group will now be entrusted to the Dicastery for Clergy, rather than the Dicastery for Bishops.
Noting that some have said this was an act aimed at clipping Opus Dei’s wings and essentially reigning the group in, Pope Francis denied this, saying the transfer from bishops to clergy was a matter of canon law.
“The criteria needed to be unified,” he said, saying, “It was a serene, normal thing done by canonists, we even had canonists from Opus Dei working in the process.”
He chastised those who he said have sought to paint the decision as an insult to Opus Dei, saying, “It is not right to make such a fuss, neither to portray them as victims or as prisoners who received punishment…I am a good friend of Opus Dei, I love them and they do a good job in the Church.”
As he has in the past, Francis also cautioned against holding on too tightly to tradition within the church, saying those who argue that he doesn’t pay enough attention to doctrine are wrong.
“The attention remains the same,” he said, saying that at times the people who make this allegation “reflect positions of immature faith, they don’t feel secure, and they latch on to something, they grip onto what used to be done.”
“Tradition is not the issue. Tradition is a source of inspiration…The problem is when you walk backwards,” he said.
Pope Francis noted that next March will mark the 10th anniversary of his election to the papacy, and praised his predecessor Benedict XVI, calling him “a saint” and “a man of high spiritual life.”
Asked what document he would like to leave as his legacy, the pope said it would be his first apostolic exhortation, Evangelii Gaudium, published in 2013, which he said, “came from the heart.”
He also touched on the clerical abuse scandals and the problem of coverup, saying “it is a very big evil,” and that progress is slow, but “little by little we are tackling it.”
“We are taking these steps assisted by God,” he said, but said the phenomenon of pornographic videos involving minors, many of which are produced live, are still “a mystery” to him.
“Where are they produced? In what country? Nobody knows. Who covers all that up?” he asked, saying, “Here we should call on those in positions of responsibility in society. What cover is still afforded to groups that film child pornography? This is a cry for help.”
On the topic of women, he noted that while he has appointed many women to prominent positions of leadership within the Vatican, no Vatican curial departments, called dicasteries, are yet led by women.
However, “there will be,” he said, saying he has a dicastery in mind that will have a vacancy at the top in two years’ time. “There is nothing to prevent a woman from guiding a dicastery in which a layman can be a prefect,” he said.
The pope also responded to criticisms that his cardinal appointments are too diverse, potentially leading to problems in a future conclave because none of the new cardinals he has named know one another.
This is a problem “from a human standpoint,” he said, and recalled a proposal put forward by German Cardinal Walter Brandmüller during a recent meeting of cardinals in August to have voting rights for a conclave restricted only to cardinals residing in Rome.
“Is that the universal Church?” he asked, saying, “the one working there is the Holy Spirit.”
Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen