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Pope Francis: Pontiff should rule for life

Vatican head Pope Francis has come out to say pontiffs resigning instead of ruling for life should not become a “fashion” in the Roman Catholic Church and happen only in truly exceptional circumstances.

The comments were made in a private conversation with fellow Jesuits during his recent trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It marks a shift away from previous remarks in which Francis said that longer life spans and medical improvements could make retired popes an institution in the Church.

La Stampa newspaper published the comments on Thursday in an article by Father Antonio Spadaro, a Rome-based Jesuit priest who attends the meetings and writes about it with the pope’s permission.

On February 2 in Kinshasa, Francis was asked about media reports that he could resign.

He repeated a comment first made to a Spanish newspaper last December that several months after his election in 2013 he gave a Vatican official a resignation letter to be used in case one day he suffered a severe medical condition that would leave him permanently unconscious and unable to make decisions.

In 2013, Pope Benedict, citing frail physical and mental health, became the first pontiff to resign in about 600 years.

In 2014, Francis said the resignation of Benedict a year before should not be seen as “a unique case” and that by stepping down, late Pope Benedict had become “an institution who opened a door, the door of emeritus popes”.

The tone of Francis’ comments to the African Jesuits was in a marked contrast to that which Francis used in the past when discussing the possible resignations of popes, including himself.

Writing by Tersoo Nicholas