VATICAN CITY (RNS) — Approaching his 10th year as pontiff, Pope Francis took time to address his legacy in two interviews recently, talking to Italian and Spanish reporters about what would happen if he were to fall ill and the role of retired popes.
The pope, who turned 86 on Saturday (Dec. 17), said he “didn’t change a thing” about how the role of the pope emeritus is defined. In 2013, Francis’ predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, became the first pope to resign in 600 years, forcing the church to invent the position of pope emeritus for the modern age.
As he has throughout his papacy, Francis emphasized his work on promoting the role of laity, especially women, and cleaning up the institution’s notoriously corrupt finances.
“There is nothing to prevent a woman from guiding a dicastery in which a layman can be a prefect,” the pope said, adding that there might be a woman heading a Vatican department in the next two years.
Francis said in the interview, published Sunday in the Spanish newspaper ABC, that he often visits his retired predecessor, who lives in a monastery at the Vatican, and that he finds him in “good spirits” and “lucid” and praised him as “one of the greats” and “a saint.”
In an interview aired the same day with the Italian TV channel Canale 5, Francis said cardinals who elected him at the 2013 conclave viewed Vatican financial reform as the key issue facing the next pope. “The cardinals who were there helped me a lot in making these changes,” he said, adding that now “that aspect is strong.”
Francis has said in past interviews that he is open to resigning himself, and in this weekend’s interview with ABC, he confirmed that there is already a plan should he fall victim to an illness or accident that impeded his ability to carry out his duties.
“I have already signed my renunciation,” said the pope, and that document is now in the hands of Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin.
Francis said that Popes Pius XVII and Paul VI had informally established the practice of signing a provisional renunciation of the office in case of an extraordinary event.
Reflecting on his legacy after a decade at the head of the Catholic Church, Francis said he was most proud of his apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium” (The Joy of the Gospel), the first major teaching he issued after becoming pope, laying out his vision for the church.
Francis said that the document “came from the heart” and was heavily inspired by Pope Paul VI’s 1975 “Evangelii Nuntiandi” (Proclaiming the Gospel) and the Aparecida document that resulted from the 2007 conference of Latin American bishops.
The pope pointed also to the Synod on Synodality as a transformative change he will be known for. The worldwide consultation open to all Catholics to discuss and address the challenges facing the church began in 2021 and is scheduled to end in two bishops’ summits at the Vatican in 2023 and 2024.