Pope Francis drops biggest hints that he might quit as head of Catholic church
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Pope Francis has dropped perhaps his biggest hint to date that he might be preparing to step down from his role as the head of the Catholic Church, following in the footsteps of his predecessor Pope Benedict XVI, who became the first pope since 1415 to abdicate the papacy.
Speaking to gathered crowds in St Peter's Square on Sunday, Francis delivered a sermon in which he praised the ‘virtue of stepping aside at the right time’, fuelling rumours that he is planning to leave the position as Pontiff.
That speculation has been swirling since the death of Pope Benedict last month, with many believing that Francis did not want there to be two Pope Emeritus’ - living popes who have abdicated the role - at the same time.
With Benedict’s death, that would no longer be the case.
However, he has not confirmed suspicions that he might step down - and had previously denied reports in July 2022 that he would be resigning in the near future.
In his Sunday Angelus – given each Sunday at midday in the Vatican – Francis said: “It is easy to become attached to roles and positions, to the need to be esteemed, recognised and rewarded.
“It is good for us too to cultivate, like [Saint] John [the Baptist], the virtue of setting ourselves aside at the right moment, bearing witness that the point of reference of life is Jesus.
“To step aside, to learn to take one’s leave: I have completed this mission, I have had this meeting, I will step aside and leave room to the Lord.
“To learn to step aside, not to take something for ourselves in recompense.”
Last year, he revealed that he had already written a resignation letter back in 2013 to be used should his health prevent him from carrying out his role.
The 86-year-old said: "I have 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 also joked that someone would pass the note on to Cardinal Bertone, who acted as Secretary of State for the Vatican until October 2013, stating that ‘someone will run up to Bertone [saying] ‘give me that piece of paper’ now that he has revealed it exists.
As for his health, Francis had bowel surgery in 2021 and has been using a wheelchair for some months, as well as a cane because of persistent knee pain.
However, he has minimised concerns around that problem, stating: "One governs with the head, not the knee."