(ZENIT News / Rome, 16.02.2023).- Pope Francis held two meetings with members of the Society of Jesus, during his recent visit to Africa: the first in the Congo with 82 Jesuits and the second in South Sudan with 11 Jesuits. There was a common question during both meetings: the Pontiff’s renunciation. The questions were direct and without courtesies. “There has been talk of your possible resignation. Are you really intent on leaving the Petrine ministry? What about the General of the Society? In your opinion, should his post remain for life? In South Sudan the question was no less direct: “Are you thinking of resigning? They asked without further ado.
To this second question the Holy Father answered: “It hasn’t gone through my head. However, I have written a letter and delivered it to Cardinal Bertone. It contains my renunciation in case I am not in conditions of health and conscious to be able to renounce. Pius XII also wrote a letter of renunciation in case Hitler took him to Germany. Then, he said, they would capture Eugenio Pacelli and not the Pope.”
In reality, the Pope alluded to this in one of the interviews he has given. However, it’s significant that the question is in the collective imagination, including that of Religious of the Congregation of which he was a part. What did he say to the Religious in the Congo? The Pope said: “Look, it’s true that I wrote my resignation two months after I was elected and delivered this letter to Cardinal Bertone. I don’t know where this letter is. I did so in case I had some health problem that would prevent me from exercising my ministry and I am not fully conscious and able to resign. However, this does not at all mean that resigning Popes should become, let’s say, a ‘fashion,’ a normal thing. Benedict had the courage to do so because he did not feel up to continuing due to his health. I, for the moment, do not have that on my agenda. I believe that the Pope’s ministry is ad vitam. I see no reason why it should not be so. Think that the ministry of the great Patriarchs is always for life! And the historical tradition is important. If, on the other hand, we are listening to the ‘chatter,’ well, then we should change Popes every six months!
The Pontiff also spoke about the Superior General of the Jesuits: “About the Society of Jesus: yes, on this I am ‘conservative.’ It has to be for life. But, of course, the same question arises as with the Pope. Father Kolvenbach and Father Nicholas, the last two Generals, resigned for health reasons. It seems to me important to remember, as well, that one reason for the life-long generalship in the Society also arises to avoid electoral calculations, factions, chatter…