Pope Francis has given the most explicit indication yet that he will resign if his health deteriorates.
Speculation has been mounting about the future of the Pope’s papacy, fueled by his recent health issues and his surprise decision to call the meeting of cardinals in late August, a time when the Vatican is usually on holiday.
Pope Francis also previously announced a visit to L’Aquila, an Italian town linked to Celestine V, a pope who resigned in the late 13th century, leading to speculation that he was planning to follow in his footsteps.
In a new interview on Monday, he denied that he was on the brink of retiring saying the prospect has not crossed his mind in recent months, but added that he will step-down if he becomes physically unable to continue in the role.
“When I see that I can’t do it, OK … I will do it in the great example of Pope Benedict,” he said.
Benedict XVI, who is 95, quit in 2013. It was the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years, announced during a meeting with cardinals - the same kind of assembly Pope Francis scheduled for next month.
The pontiff’s comments go further than remarks he made in June in which he said: “I believe that a Bishop of Rome, a pope, who feels that his strength is failing – because these days we are living longer – has to ask the same questions that Pope Benedict asked.”
Pope Francis has recently used a wheelchair or a walking stick in public owing to a torn ligament in his right knee. The ailment forced him to cancel a July 2-7 trip to Congo and South Sudan.
Speaking to Reuters, he said “I’m still alive” when asked about his knee, and added, “I am well, I am slowly getting better.”
Pope Francis also dismissed rumours that an operation a year ago, in which part of his colon was removed, was because of cancer.
"It (the operation) was a great success," he said, adding with a laugh that "they didn't tell me anything" about the supposed cancer, which he dismissed as "court gossip".
Plans to travel to Ukraine
During the interview, Francis said he would like to go to Moscow and Kyiv to “try to help in some way” with peace. "And now it is possible, after I come back from Canada, it is possible that I manage to go to Ukraine," he said.
"The first thing is to go to Russia to try to help in some way, but I would like to go to both capitals."
Pope Francis has been accused of not going far enough in his criticism of Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, though he has condemned the war in Ukraine. Last Thursday he implicitly accused Moscow of waging a "cruel and senseless war of aggression".
Responding to his comments, a Ukrainian foreign ministry spokesperson said on Monday: "It is time to deepen connections with those who sincerely desire it. We renew the invitation to Pope Francis to visit our country and urge you to continue praying for the Ukrainian people.”