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VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) — In an interview with Spanish newspaper ABC, Pope Francis revealed for the first time that early in his pontificate he signed a provisional letter of resignation “in case of impediment for medical reasons,” which he entrusted to the Cardinal Secretary of State.

The news came in a conversation published early Sunday, December 18, with controversial questions that ranged from clerical abuse to the difficulties facing a college of cardinals and a conclave in which members do not know each other.

At the end of the interview, Pope Francis then made known for the first time that he signed a provisional letter of resignation at the beginning of his pontificate, handing the letter to then-Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was appointed by Benedict XVI in 2006, continuing in the role into the pontificate of Pope Francis until August 31, 2013.

“What happens if a pontiff is suddenly prevented by health problems or accident? Wouldn’t a rule for these cases be convenient?” the Pope was asked, to which he responded, “I have already signed my resignation. It was Tarcisio Bertone, the Secretary of State. I signed it and I told him: ‘In case of impediment for medical reasons or what do I know, here is my resignation. You have it.’ I don’t know to whom Cardinal Bertone may have given it, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State.”

The Pope also mentioned that Paul VI and Pius XII had signed letters of resignation in case of permanent impediment. Asked if he wanted the matter known, Pope Francis affirmed that he did, saying, “That is why I am saying it. Now someone will go and ask Bertone: ‘Give me the little piece of paper!’ He probably gave it to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the new Secretary of State. I gave it to Bertone as Secretary of State.”

The news comes amid continuing speculation as to whether and under what conditions Pope Francis would ever resign. Previously, Francis has affirmed that he never entertained the thought, but in light of ongoing health issues that have resulted in the aging pontiff being escorted everywhere in a wheelchair, the revelation that he has already signed a letter of resignation “in case of impediment for medical reasons” carries new relevance.

READ: Pope Francis denies resignation rumors: ‘It never entered my mind’

Asked about the perception of many Catholics that he gives attention to those outside the Church while neglecting the faithful, the Pope castigated those with such concerns, accusing them of the “ugly sin” of “hidden ambition,” and comparing them to the ungrateful older brother of the prodigal son.

Pope Francis has been criticized for praising efforts to include in the Church and her sacramental life such groups as the LGBT-friendly, pro-abortion politicians, and the divorced and remarried, while showing little tolerance for traditional Catholics attached to the Church’s ancient Roman liturgy.

READ: Pope Francis’ American cardinals are pro-LGBT revolutionaries with a radical agenda for the Church

Claiming “inspiration” from tradition, Pope Francis nonetheless insisted that the Church cannot look backward and must leave the past in the past. Although saying he thought Pope Benedict was a saintly man, he nonetheless has also struck down what many see as the former pontiff’s signature act as the Successor of Peter, namely, the restoration of the freedom to celebrate the Traditional Latin Mass through the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum.

READ: Bp. Schneider: Pope’s ‘persecution’ of the Latin Mass an ‘abuse of power’ that must be resisted

The Pope also hinted that he is planning on making a woman the head of one of the dicasteries of the Roman Curia, saying there will be a vacancy in two years’ time of an office he has in mind for such an appointment. He downplayed the importance of the theological question of whether such offices should or even can be held by a layman and the issue of the relation of governance within the Church to the divinely established hierarchical order of the male priesthood, from which the power to govern has traditionally been understood to flow.

READ: Cdl. Müller’s reflections on Vatican curial reform as prepared for recent consistory

Asked about the clerical sexual abuse crisis that continues to plague the Church, Pope Francis seemed to accept the decades long practice of bishops covering up clerical sexual crimes, based on the “hermeneutics of the time.”

Employing the language of situational ethics, the pontiff stated, “You have to interpret the problems with the hermeneutics of their time… It is unfair to judge an ancient situation with today’s hermeneutics. The hermeneutic of yesteryear was to hide everything… My explanation is this: there is not enough strength to face them. I understand that they do not know how to deal with them, but I do not justify them. First the Church covered them up, then it had the grace to widen its gaze and to say ‘no’ to the last consequences.”

In spite of the claim to be acting differing today, Pope Francis recently lifted the automatic excommunication incurred by a Jesuit priest who absolved an accomplice in Confession with whom he had committed a sin against the Sixth Commandment. The excommunication, imposed ispo facto by Canon Law, was reportedly personally lifted by the Pope within hours of its becoming known in an ecclesiastical court.

READ: Pope reportedly intervened to lift excommunication of sexually active, abusive Jesuit priest

The Pope also criticized concerns raised by several cardinals that many members of the college of cardinals do not know each due to the fact there had not been a plenary session of the cardinals for nearly 10 years. Before the session held this past August, the last plenary session took place in 2014 during the controversial “Synod on the Family,” after the promulgation of Amoris Laetitia, sparking heated debate among the cardinals with orthodox prelates arguing against the acceptance of adultery as a morally legitimate answer to the crisis in marriage facing couples today.

Prior to the plenary session in August, Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the four cardinals to sign the famous dubia to the Pope concerning his teaching in Amoris Laetitia, had also voiced the fear that the cardinals’ lack of personal knowledge of each other posed the grave risk of manipulation during the next conclave, proposing that only those cardinals living in Rome — who thereby have some experience of the governance of the universal Church — be eligible as voting members of the college. The Pope shot down the suggestion with no proposal for overcoming the difficulties and dangers facing the next conclave.


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