Pope Francis reveals he wrote resignation note in case health affects work

ROME — Pope Francis said he wrote a resignation letter shortly after his election in 2013, stating his intentions to step down from the papacy if medical problems prevented him from carrying out his duties.

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The pontiff, who turned 86 on Saturday, revealed in an interview Sunday published by the Spanish newspaper ABC that he gave the note to Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was then the Vatican secretary of state, The Associated Press reported. Bertone resigned later in 2013, CNN reported.

Francis, who was born Jorge Mario Bergoglio in Argentina, said he believes the note is now in the hands of current Vatican secretary of state Cardinal Pietro Parolin, according to the AP.

“I have already signed my renunciation. The secretary of state at the time was Tarcisio Bertone. I signed it and said: ‘If I should become impaired for medical reasons or whatever, here is my renunciation,’” Francis told ABC in his interview.

Asked what happens if health issues or an accident suddenly leaves a pope incapacitated and whether there should be a rule for such instances, Francis told the newspaper that, “In practice there is already a rule.”

The pontiff joked that now that he has revealed the existence of a resignation letter, “someone will run up to Bertone (saying), ‘Give me that piece of paper.’”

Francis has been the pope since March 13, 2013. He was elected by a papal conclave two weeks after his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, announced his resignation.

Benedict, 95, was born Joseph Ratzinger in Germany. He became the first pope to resign since Gregory XII in 1415, according to The Washington Post. Gregory XII resigned to end a civil war within the church. His resignation enabled a special council to excommunicate the pope based in Avignon, France, and start fresh with a new, single leader of the church, according to the newspaper.

Francis said previous popes, Paul VI and Pius XII, had also drafted letters of renunciation in the event of a permanent impairment, CNN reported.

Francis had surgery in 2021 to repair a bowel narrowing and has been plagued by knee pain that limited him to a wheelchair for several months, the AP reported. The pontiff has recently used a cane to get around in public.

In his interview, Francis downplayed his mobility issues, telling ABC that “one governs with the head, not the knee.”

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