Pope Francis Rejects Resignation Rumors

(RNS) — While Pope Francis said he has “no intention of resigning,” he laid out a broad view of what it would look like if he stepped down as pontiff in a long interview published on Tuesday (July 12). Francis also weighed in on many hot button topics in America, from abortion to mass shootings and drug trafficking.

The pope told the Mexican media outlet TelevisaUnivision that his knee troubles, which forced him to use a wheelchair for a short time, raised concerns he might not be able to perform his papal duties. “It’s getting better. Now I can walk,” he said. “But it never occurred to me to quit.”

Francis admitted his health struggles have “certainly limited” him in his role recently, namely in leading him to postpone a planned trip to two countries in Africa, but he insisted he has no intention of stepping down at the moment.

He did say that if he were no longer able to perform his duties, or if “I become a hindrance,” he would follow in the example of his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2013 became the first pope to resign in 600 years.

“I hope that the strength of that example will help me make the decision,” he said. Pope Francis spoke highly of Benedict, who having added the title emeritus to his name continues to wear the white clothing of the pontiffs and lives in a monastery in the Vatican. “That man is supporting the church with his kindness and with his retirement,” he said.

According to Francis, the precedent set by Benedict does open the door for popes to resign — but with that possibility comes the need “to delineate things more” and create explicit guidelines for the role of the emeritus pope, he said, calling the initial framework created by Benedict a “first step.”

But Francis said if he were to retire, he would would not remain at the Vatican but would instead return to the retirement plan he’d laid out before being elected pope, spending the rest of his days as bishop emeritus in a home for priests in a Roman parish, living “in service to the people.”

“If I survive, I would like something like this: Confess and go see the sick,” Francis said.

In the two-hour interview, Francis also touched on a number of pressing issues concerning the United States, especially abortion, which has taken center stage after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in June, handing decisions around legalizing abortion back to the states.

While admitting he’s not knowledgeable on the U.S. legal system, Francis asked: “Is it fair to take a human life to solve a problem? Whatever it is? Is it fair to hire a hit man to eliminate a human life?” The pope referenced scientific research he said shows that “one month after conception, the DNA is already there,” while adding his position on this issue is “nonnegotiable.”

But the pontiff noted how polarizing the issue is and the risk of losing sight of the pastoral and human dimension, especially when clergy turn it into a “political problem.” Some conservative bishops in the United States have denied Communion to Catholic politicians who support abortion rights, including President Joe Biden and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, while encouraging others to follow their lead.

Concerning whether a politician supporting abortion rights should take Communion, Francis said he leaves it “to your conscience,” and a politician should “speak with his bishop, with his pastor, with his parish priest, about that inconsistency.” The pope added that faithful are more confused by the political attitude of bishops who are “so focused on an issue they can’t see past their own nose.”

The pope also addressed the recent mass shootings in the United States, including the Independence Day parade shooting near Chicago, pointing to the “serious social problem” that led these young men to commit such acts of violence. Francis called such actions “diabolical” and questioned why “young people are so dissatisfied that they feel fulfilled only by destroying.”

The proliferation of weapons is tied to the culture of war, the pope said, and raises the question of how to monitor the sale of weapons. This culture of violence permeates all societies, he added, including the drug cartels in Mexico where many priests are killed every year.

While the war in Ukraine has garnered global attention, the pope said, “for years we have been living the Third World War in bits, in chapters, with wars everywhere.” Asked why he didn’t directly condemn Russia and its leader, President Vladimir Putin, for the aggression, the pope said he prefers “to talk about the victims rather than the perpetrators.”

Accusing Russia “is not a way to keep the door open to someone’s conscience,” he continued, adding that he “laughs” when detractors accuse him of being pro-Putin. “People’s ability to express their opinion has no limit,” he said, adding such pronouncements are more often than not a response to the latest message they saw on Twitter.

The pope said he still plans to visit the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv “soon” and plans to meet with the Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill during a religious meeting in Kazakhstan in September. Francis also said he plans to apologize to the Indigenous peoples when he visits Canada July 24-31 for the “cruelty” of those who tried to eliminate their culture, including Catholic clergy.

On the question of the inclusion of women in the Vatican offices that make up the Roman Curia, Francis said “the door is open” for a woman to one day occupy the second highest position at the Vatican as secretary of state. Francis’ new apostolic constitution, “Praedicate Evangelium” (Preach the Gospel), allows for lay individuals to lead Vatican offices and departments.

The pope also said “the pot has been uncovered” concerning the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults in the Catholic Church, but the problem will persist as long as we live in a society where people continue to be physically and psychologically abused.

Francis also touched on the subject of human traffiking and migration, urging people to show compassion and avoid generalizations. “Human dramas have a face,” the pope said. “Let’s make decisions by looking at the faces of those people.”

At Vatican Women’s Day Event, A Call For Female Voices In Peace Talks

As European nations attempt to defend Ukraine without being pulled into a war, an ecumenical group of women representing charitable organizations around the world called for more female representation in peace talks and negotiations.

The occasion was an event called “Church and Society: Women as Builders of Dialogue,” organized by Caritas Internationalis, a global network of Catholic humanitarian organizations, and hosted by the British Embassy to the Holy See for International Women’s Day.

In a conflict shaping up as a face-off between Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, known for posing shirtless and riding bears, and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who has captivated the world with his sometimes swaggering rhetoric, several of the women at Tuesday’s event noted the absence of women in the peace negotiations. 

Advocating for a peace process that is more diverse, Susana Raffalli, a nutrition adviser at Caritas Venezuela, who appeared via Zoom, was one of several speakers who praised women’s emphasis on dialogue. Women tend to be more concerned with “actually bringing commitments and agreements toward peace,” Raffalli said. In Venezuela, she said, women are more conscious of vulnerable populations’ stake in the peace process.

Tetiana Stawnychy, the president of Caritas in Ukraine, highlighted the tremendous efforts made by women on the front lines in Ukraine and in other conflict zones, including those working as first responders and as civilians to help the most vulnerable.

When war breaks out women are often portrayed chiefly as victims, said Rita Rhayem, a health and HIV adviser for Caritas Internationalis, and that obscures their role as first responders. To maximize women’s contribution to conflict resolution, she added, leaders need to “remove the barriers that confine women” and allow them to take public roles in responding to war.

Maria Immonen, director of the Department for World Service of the Lutheran World Federation, urged institutions and governments to uphold their commitments to promote female leadership, “ensuring that they have equal access to the tables where discussions are had and decisions are made.”

Aloysius John, the secretary-general of Caritas Internationalis and one of the few men to address the conference, said it is essential to reevaluate “the place and role of women in our societies,” not only at negotiation tables but wherever war has touched people’s lives.  

In this Feb. 15, 2021, file photo, Rohingya refugees headed to the Bhasan Char island prepare to board navy vessels from the southeastern port city of Chattogram, Bangladesh. (AP Photo, File)

Just returned from camps in Bangladesh, where Rohingya Muslims, forced from their homes in Myanmar, live in challenging conditions, John said he witnessed firsthand “the important role the women in these camps are playing to be constructors of dialogue and harmony.”

The Catholic Church is reexamining the role of women in its own institutions. Pope Francis has begun an ambitious project known as the Synod on Synodality aimed at reorienting the church’s power structures to focus on the needs of marginalized people, including women. The three-year consultations will result in a 2023 summit of bishops at the Vatican.

“If you really want to listen to the poorest then you have to listen to the women,” said Sister Nathalie Becquart, the undersecretary overseeing the synod and the first woman to hold such a post. Becquart described the synod as “a sandbox for women,” where new models for female inclusion can be developed and put into action.

The History Of US Presidential Visits To The Vatican

On Friday (Oct. 29), Pope Francis is set to hold a highly anticipated private audience with President Joe Biden at the Vatican. It will be the first in-person meeting between the pontiff and the Catholic head of state since Biden’s election.

Biden is the 14th U.S. president to meet a pontiff at the Vatican, and the Eternal City is bubbling with speculation over what the two are likely to discuss. The meeting is expected to be cordial, focusing on what the two have in common, but historically the relationship between the Vatican and the Oval Office has often been tense — even occasionally hostile.

From public reprimands to diplomatic faux pas, Religion News Service takes a look back at the history of meetings between popes and U.S. presidents.

More than a hundred years ago, on Jan. 4, 1919, President Woodrow Wilson became the first American head of state to meet with a pope at the Vatican, during a European tour in the aftermath of World War I, which had left the continent in shambles and rife with tensions.

The pontiff at the time, Pope Benedict XV, had spoken fervently against war and in 1917 wrote a letter “to the Heads of State of the Belligerent Peoples,” which outlined a plan for peace and reconstruction for Europe and beyond. In January of 1918, Wilson pronounced his 14 points for the establishment of a new postwar world. Some observers at the time suggested Wilson felt as if the frail Italian pontiff had stolen his thunder by releasing his vision first.

The first encounter between a U.S. president and a pope was also a meeting of two global visions for peace, at times opposing and sometimes aligned. The evolving contours of these visions would go on to define the relationship for a century.

Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII: ‘That was a beaut!’

President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Pope John XXIII met at the Vatican in December 1959. John XXIII, known as “the good pope” for his affable and gregarious attitude, tried to learn a few words in English to put the president at ease. Despite his efforts, the elderly pope stumbled through his English and at the end of the speech ironically quipped “that was a beaut!” in Italian. The president, accompanied by his family, burst out laughing along with everyone present, blessing the papal annals with some rather playful pictures of the historic event.

Kennedy and Pope Paul VI: To kiss the ring or to not kiss the ring?

The first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy faced significant scrutiny back home for how he would handle his July 1963 meeting with Pope Paul VI. Anti-Catholic sentiment remained strong in the U.S., and even before his visit, cartoons popped up showing Kennedy bowing to the pope in Rome. The media at the time questioned whether the U.S. president would follow Catholic protocol and bow to kiss the pope’s ring.

Instead, Kennedy and Pope Paul VI exchanged a firm handshake during their meeting and spoke in English. Five months after the visit, Kennedy was fatally shot. People close to the pope said he “wept uncontrollably” at the news and later publicly condemned Kennedy’s assassination.

Johnson and Pope Paul VI: American egos and Vietnam

President Lyndon B. Johnson’s visit to the Vatican on Dec. 23, 1967, came as the Catholic Church prepared to celebrate Christmas, but according to witnesses, it was less than jolly. Paul VI made his objection to the Vietnam War heard during the meeting, with some claiming he slammed his fist on the table in anger. Johnson made sure to leave a lasting impression — literally — gifting the pope a bronze bust of himself.

Nixon and Pope Paul VI: From amicable to acrimonious

President Richard Nixon met with Pope Paul VI at the Vatican twice. The first time, in March 1969, the two discussed the ongoing war in Vietnam and the possibility for peace. Nixon praised the pope for his words, stating they were “a source of profound inspiration” and promising to make do on his peace-building efforts.

When they met again on Sept. 28, 1970, as the Vietnam War continued to escalate, the encounter was “less than pleasant, even acrimonious,” according to Peter Hebblethwaite’s biography of Pope Paul VI.

Ford and Pope Paul VI: A divided Europe, a divided world

With Europe increasingly divided by the Cold War, the meeting between President Gerald Ford and Pope Paul VI focused on how to promote unity. The two met at the Vatican on June 3, 1975. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger was also in attendance.

During the brief encounter, the pope encouraged the U.S. to leverage its now established position of leadership for unity. They also addressed the rising tension between Israel and Egypt, with the pope promoting a “peaceful coexistence” between Christians and Muslims. The Middle East would increasingly became a point of contention in U.S.-Vatican diplomacy.

Carter and Pope John Paul II: Bookish alliances

In 1979, Pope John Paul II became the first pope to visit the White House. A year later, on June 21, 1980, he met with President Jimmy Carter in the papal library at the Vatican.

During the meeting, Carter condemned the Soviet Union’s expansion in the Middle East, especially its invasion of Afghanistan. John Paul II directed the president’s attention to finding a resolution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

At the end of the meeting, the pope gifted Carter with a leather-bound copy of the Bible for the president to read. Seeing that the text was in Latin, Carter jokingly told the pope, “It would be easier for you than me!”

Reagan and Pope John Paul II: The ‘bromance’ that defeated communism

A number of books and films have been made documenting the synergy between President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, a relationship many argue contributed to the defeat of communism and the Soviet Union. The two met twice at the Vatican and twice in the United States.

When Reagan and John Paul II met for the first time at the Vatican on June 7, 1982, they already had much in common. In 1981, they both survived assassination attempts, and they viewed their meeting as a divine sign that they had a purpose to fulfill. “God saved us both,” John Paul II reportedly said, “so that we can do what we are about to do. How else can it be explained?”

The meeting, which lasted 50 minutes, marked the first time a pope and a president spoke alone behind closed doors. The two had exchanged a flurry of letters in the months leading up to the meeting, addressing the future of Europe and an end to the escalating nuclear tensions.

For the next six years, the Reagan and John Paul II partnership reshaped Europe amid the tumult of the Cold War, revealing the potential of a union between two global and moral superpowers. Two years after the meeting, the Holy See and the United States established official diplomatic relations.

H.W. Bush and Pope John Paul II: Failing papal appeals for peace

President George H.W. Bush met with Pope John Paul II twice at the Vatican — in 1989 and 1991 — but both times the shadow of war hung over the encounters. John Paul II’s appeals for peace had become louder after the U.S. engaged in the First Gulf War, which the pope had described as “an adventure with no turning back.”

“The dignity of America,” the pope said before the cameras at their second Vatican meeting, “the reason she exists, the condition for her survival; yes, the ultimate test of her greatness: to respect every human person, especially the weakest and most defenseless ones, those as yet unborn.”

Clinton and Pope John Paul II: Roast beef and culture wars

President Bill Clinton met with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on June 2, 1994. The two had met three times before in the United States, where the contentious question of abortion hung over the meetings. The pope called on the “responsibility of the great American nation, which always upheld the ethical values at the base of every society.” Clinton gifted the pope artwork representing an olive branch, promising “joint efforts to promote the central role of the family in society.”

Bush, Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI: Failure to launch

No president has visited the Vatican more often than President George W. Bush, who made four trips to the Eternal City, plus a fifth meeting with the pope just outside Rome.

On May 28, 2002, Bush had his first encounter with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican, just months after the attacks on the World Trade Center. The pope failed in convincing Bush to halt the U.S. invasion in Iraq and chastised the war in a following meeting in June 2004.

Despite the tensions, Bush praised the pope and said “being in his presence is an awesome experience.” On their last meeting at the Vatican, Bush awarded Pope John Paul II the Medal of Freedom.

Bush also met with Pope John Paul II’s successor, Benedict XVI, at the Vatican in both 2007 and 2009. Their conversations centered mostly on tensions in the Middle East, and their differing views on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict overshadowed common agreement on abortion.

Obama and Pope Benedict XVI: Lessons on star quality and bioethics

The meeting between President Barack Obama and Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on March 27, 2014, lasted roughly 40 minutes. As cameras flashed furiously before them, Obama told the pope, “Your holiness, I’m sure you’re used to having your picture taken,” adding that he was “getting used to it.”

To underline his opposition to abortion and contraception, Benedict XVI gifted Obama with a document from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which Benedict once headed, on bioethics titled “Dignitatis Personae” or “The Dignity of Persons.”

The two met again in March 2014, where they discussed “the exercise of the rights to religious freedom, life and conscientious objection,” according to the official Vatican statement on the meeting.

Trump and Pope Francis: The walls, the bridges and the frown

Tensions had already formed before Pope Francis and President Donald Trump met at the Vatican on May 24, 2017. Only a year before, the bridge-building pope had seemed to criticize Trump’s intentions to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, stating “a person who thinks only about building walls, wherever they may be, and not building bridges, is not Christian.”

Trump pushed back against the papal jab on Twitter, describing the pontiff’s remarks as “disgraceful.” The Vatican meeting culminated with a photo capturing one of the pope’s most infamous frowns.

After the short meeting, the mood seemed to lighten slightly, with Trump thanking the pope and telling him, “I won’t forget what you said.” Pope Francis gifted the president a copy of his “green” encyclical on the environment, “Laudato Si’.” But in 2020, Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the Paris climate agreements.