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I will not abdicate, Pope declares in new memoir

22 March 2024

Alamy

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Wednesday

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience in St Peter’s Square, Vatican City, on Wednesday

THE Pope has rejected complaints by conservative Roman Catholics that he risks “destroying the papacy”, and said that he has no plans to abdicate.

“The Church must act as a mother, who embraces everyone, even those who feel they are in the wrong and have been judged by us in the past. I think, for example, of homosexuals and transsexuals who seek the Lord but are rejected or persecuted,” he writes in a new autobiography, Life: My story through history, published on Tuesday by HarperCollins.

He writes that the “gospel mission of proclaiming God’s love for all” guided his approval of a pre-Christmas Vatican declaration, Fiducia Supplicans, allowing RC clergy to grant “non-liturgical blessings” to unmarried and same-sex couples (News, 22 December 2023, 15 March).

He reiterates, however, that blessings should not imply that same-sex marriages are now favoured by the Church, which has no power “to change sacraments created by the Lord”.

“Jesus spent time with people who lived on the margins of society — and that’s what the Church should be doing today with the LGBTQ+ community,” he writes.

“I still cultivate a dream for the future: that our Church might be a meek, humble, servant Church with all the attributes of God — tender, close and compassionate. . . We must simplify things as we look to the future and overcome clericalism — the view of clerics as an elite with an attitude of moral superiority over the faithful. This has become a disease, a plague!”

The 304-page book, co-written with Fabio Ragona, an Italian journalist, ranges over his early life as Jorge Mario Bergoglio with his newly arrived family in Argentina, which taught him about hostility to immigrants — a “prejudice that corrupts the soul” — and recounts a short-lived “crush” that he experienced as a seminarian.

It recalls the 1969 moon landing, Argentina’s World Cup victory in 1986, and the fall of the Berlin Wall; and it reflects on “Hitler’s murderous rampage against Jews, Roma, homosexuals and people with disabilities”. It also recalls the atomic destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2008 economic recession, the Covid pandemic, and his own election.

Although scientific and technological advances have brought miracles, the Pope writes, they require ethical care, in areas ranging from modern weaponry to IVF and surrogacy, while anti-Semitism, racism, and discrimination must be fought to prevent God’s name being “profaned and defiled in the madness of hate”.

“How many things would have gone differently in the past 80 years if love and prayer had motivated human beings, rather than the thirst for power,” he writes.

“We must always protect human life, from conception to death, and I shall never tire of saying that abortion is murder, a criminal act . . . a defeat for everyone who carries it out and anyone complicit in it: mercenaries, killers for hire!”

Italy’s daily La Repubblica said that the autobiography would be viewed as an attempt by Pope Francis, who became the 266th pope on 13 March 2013, to regain momentum after a series of health problems, and growing defiance of his liberal reforms by conservative Roman Catholic groups.

The Pope acknowledges that opposition to his efforts has also come from within the Vatican, but insists that he has acted on a reformist mandate handed to him when he took office.

He goes on to write that a letter of resignation is being kept by the Vatican’s State Secretariat, should he suffer a “serious physical impediment”; but he emphasises that he has no plans to abdicate, as his predecessor, Benedict XVI, did.

“Some people may have hoped that, sooner or later, perhaps after a stay in the hospital, I might make an announcement of that kind, but there’s no risk of it — thanks to God, I enjoy good health and have many projects to bring to fruition,” he writes.

“There was a strong desire to change things, to abandon certain attitudes which have sadly proved difficult to eradicate. . . But there are always some who wish to put the brakes on reform, who want things to stay as they were during the days of pope kings.”

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