The day before leaving on his weeklong trip to Latin America, Pope Francis told a large gathering of Catholics on Saturday that "a great temptation" is for leaders to believe themselves "indispensable" and that a "time limit" should be set for those with roles in the church.
Although he didn't refer to himself directly, the Pope's comments, given at a gathering of thousands in St Peter's Square, reignited speculation that the pontiff may follow Benedict XVI and resign rather than serve as Pope for life.
"There exists a great temptation for leaders to believe themselves indispensable, step by step to head towards authoritarianism, to personality cults, and not to allow the communities renewed in the Holy Spirit to thrive," Francis told members of the Catholic movement Renewal in the Holy Spirit.
He said this temptation "renders 'eternal' the position of those who consider themselves indispensable," but added that only the Holy Spirit is indispensable in the church and Jesus is the only Lord.
"There are no others," he said. "A time limit should be established for roles in the church, which are in reality a form of service." The Pope went on to say that lay leaders need to prepare their successors as it would be "opportune" for all serving in the church to have a time limit. "There are no lifelong leaders in the church," he said.
Francis has raised this issue before, but in the past he has been more specific about his own role and resigning from the papacy. For centuries, Popes had traditionally served until death until Benedict XVI resigned in 2013.
In March, Francis told Mexican television he had a "feeling" his pontificate would be brief. "Four or five years, I do not know, even two or three," he said. He praised Benedict¹s decision to step down as "courageous," saying the Pope emeritus "should not be considered an exception" and that a "door has been opened" to what he calls an "institution" of papal retirees.
But Pope Francis, 78, has also said that to keep a Pope in charge strictly up to 80 years of age "creates a sensation that the pontificate is at its end and that would not be a good thing." This has led to speculation that the Pope has every intention of carrying on, but is raising the possibility of resigning in a bid to hasten his reforms while lulling his opponents into inaction.
Last August, speaking to reporters on the papal plane back from Korea, Francis said "our lives are getting longer and, at a certain age, there is not the capacity to govern well."Posing the question if he would emulate Benedict and resign, he said: "I will pray, but I would do the same." He then said he felt his pontificate "won't last long" and that he may have "two or three years" before going "up to the house of the of the Father."
Inside sources say Francis' health is poor and in a worse state than he appears. He works tirelessly, takes little exercise, and has brought his doctor and, unusually, an extra medic with him on a grueling eight day, three-nation visit to his native Latin America this week.
But Francis, who has had trouble breathing since a lung infection in childhood, insists on continuing to work without any significant break. As in the previous two years, he won't be leaving the Vatican this summer for a vacation.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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