After a six-day visit to Canada, the 85-year-old pontiff told journalists that he may one day step down from the Vatican’s top job, Pope Francis is reflecting on his position as head of the Catholic Church.
“It is not a catastrophe to change Pope, it is not a taboo,” Francis told journalists on a flight to Rome.
“The door [to retiring] is open – it is a normal option, ” he added, reported the BBC. “But until today I have not knocked on that door,”
“I have not felt the need to think about this possibility – that is not to say that in two days’ time I might not start thinking about it.”
Looking back at his strenuous trip to North America – which he described as “intense,” reported the BBC – Francis provided some context to his thoughts. “I don’t think I can keep traveling with the same rhythm I used to at my age and with the limitation of this knee,” said Francis in reference to an injury that has seen him using a wheelchair in public for the first time.
“I either need to save myself a little in order to continue serving the Church, or I need to consider the possibility of stepping aside,” added the pontiff.
Rumors about Francis’ retirement first began swirling in May, when he was photographed using his wheelchair for the first time.
The suspicions increased in June when he announced a visit to L’Aquila in central Italy for the Feast of Celestinian Forgiveness – the same location his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, visited in 2009 ahead of his 2013 resignation.
Earlier this month, Francis spoke out denying the rumors, however.
In an interview, the Pope said that upcoming big events on his calendar, including a visit to the city of L’Aquila, are not the sign of something more significant.
“All of these coincidences made some think that the same ‘liturgy’ would happen,” Francis said. “But it never entered my mind. For the moment no, for the moment, no. Really!”
Francis did say, though, much like what he said in Canada, that he might resign one day if health issues prohibited him from running the church. If this does occur, it would be only the second time a modern-era Pope left the position rather than serving for life, as is tradition, after Benedict XVI resigned at age 85.
The Reuters interview was published on the day the Pope was supposed to leave for a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan but had to cancel due to doctor’s orders following his knee injury.
According to the outlet, doctors said at the time that he might also have to skip the trip to Canada too, “unless he agreed to have 20 more days of therapy and rest for his right knee.”
The Pope shared that he had experienced a “small fracture” in his knee and said he was “slowly getting better.”
As for his trip to Canada, Francis’ main goal was to apologize for the Catholic Church’s “catastrophic” residential school system for Indigenous children in the country.
Speaking Monday at a former residential school south of Edmonton, Alberta, the 85-year-old pontiff asked the Indigenous community for “forgiveness for the evil committed by so many Christians against the Indigenous peoples”.
Over 150,000 Indigenous children were forced to attend Christian-based, state-run schools, starting in the 1870s and ending in 1997, CBC reported. More than 4,100 of the students are believed to have died at the facilities, which separated the kids from their families and culture.
“I am deeply sorry for the ways in which, regrettably, many Christians supported the colonizing mentality of the powers that oppressed the Indigenous peoples,” Francis said in Spanish.
Francis, who arrived in Canada on Sunday, also promised a “serious investigation” into the schools.
“I ask forgiveness, in particular, for the ways in which many members of the Church and of religious communities cooperated, not least through their indifference, in projects of cultural destruction and forced assimilation promoted by the governments of that time, which culminated in the system of residential schools,” the pope said.
He later added, “What our Christian faith tells us is that this was a disastrous error, incompatible with the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” according to the Post.
Monday’s speech was the first event of Francis’ “penitential pilgrimage” to the country. His trip lasted six days.