Pope Francis has said that he would not take the title of Pope Emeritus were he to resign.
In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press, in which he reflected on his pontificate as it approaches its tenth anniversary, he praised the conduct of the late Benedict XVI while outlining how his own arrangements might differ.
However, he insisted that he remains in good health and dismissed pressure from conservative critics, comparing it to a “rash”.
Francis said that he “would not associate” such attacks with Benedict, whom he called “a gentleman, who never lost his nobility” even as he moved “to one side”.
He described Benedict’s role in fostering the coexistence of two popes as “heroic”.
“He was very generous, very broad and it’s true that some wanted to use it and he defended himself as much as he could against that,” said Francis.
“And I don’t have words to describe his bonhomie, right? He was a gentleman, one of those nobles in the old style.”
With Benedict’s death, he said, he had lost “a certainty against a doubt, [the ability] to ask for the car and go to the monastery [of Mater Ecclesiae, where Benedict retired] and ask”.
“I lost a good companion.”
Asked about his own possible retirement, Francis said that he would not have thought of becoming Pope Emeritus or establishing rules for papal resignations.
“If I resign, I am Bishop Emeritus of Rome,” he said. “I’m going to live in the house of the clergy of Rome, and that’s that.”
Benedict had still been “a slave” to the papacy after his retirement, and stayed in Rome when “perhaps he would have wanted to return to his Germany and continue studying theology from there”.
His residence in the Vatican, said Francis, was “a good compromise, a good solution”.
The interview covered myriad aspects of Francis’ near-decade as pontiff, and included widely-publicised remarks condemning the criminalisation of homosexuality. He also answered questions on the global Church, Vatican diplomacy and clerical sexual abuse – including the handling of allegations against Fr Marko Rupnik SJ.
In a conversation richly furnished with lively anecdotes, the Pope expressed his preference for personalities and encounters, singling out individuals such as Cardinal Sean O’Malley – the “great genius” in combatting child abuse, who “paved the way with his Capuchin simplicity” – or Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
“Cardinal Re, what he thinks, he tells me,” said Francis. “After that, when I am wrong there, he tells me, and that’s a great help.”
He contrasted this with the critics who have grown more vocal since the death of Benedict, stirred by the memoirs of Archbishop Georg Gänswein and the posthumous publication of stinging criticisms of the papacy from the late Cardinal George Pell.
“They are like urticaria [an irritating rash], which bothers me a little, but I prefer that they do this, because it means that there is freedom to speak,” Francis said. He complained that the critics were “underground” while he preferred to talk “as between mature people”.
“If this is not the case, it creates a ‘dictatorship of distance’, as I call it, where the emperor is over there and nobody can say anything to him.
“No, let them speak, because the companionship, the criticism helps us to grow up and things to go well.”
Such attacks, he said, were the result of the “wear and tear” of a ten-year pontificate, “when you start to see the defects I have”.
“All I ask is that you say it to my face, because that’s how we grow up, right?
“The same thing happens in a family – when one dares to talk to dad or mum about things they don’t like, the family grows up.
“Dialogue is important, even if you don’t like it, it is important.”
Resuming the theme later in the interview, the Pope emphasised his wish to be “bishop of Rome, in communion with all the bishops of the world” and to “stop being a court”.
He said that the conversion of Castel Gandolfo, the former papal summer residence, into a museum was an example of “gradually removing all appearance of a court and making what is really a pastoral service”.
Describing his storied decision not to live in the Vatican apartments but in the Santa Marta guest house, he said that on his election “I went to see the pontifical apartments upstairs, which are not very luxurious, but they are huge. [I thought] ‘I can’t live here, I’m dying. I need people.’”
He said that “living with people makes my job much easier”, and explaining that his domestic arrangements helped his dialogue with fellow prelates “because when the bishops come here they greet me, we are at the table, normal, which is a pastoral service of support for the bishops of the world”.
Francis insisted that cardinals were embracing his approach, reporting that their last meeting was “wonderful”.
“How was even a serious problem like the power of jurisdiction addressed – who has it or not? Two cardinals had different positions, but were discussing it with great distinction, yes, collaboration.”
Despite Cardinal Pell’s objections to his pontificate, Francis commended the Australian prelate: “A great guy. Great.”
“The one who helped me a lot was Pell, although they say that in the end he criticised me. Good, you have the right, criticism is a human right.”
He repeated his praise for Pell’s economic reforms at the Vatican, as well as his “testimony of patience” during his trial and imprisonment in Australia.
Rather than speak about division in the Church, Francis focused on the collaborative achievements of his pontificate.
“I see good things that are done, especially the things that others do together with me,” he said.
“I see things that have been corrected and things that still need to be corrected, quite a lot.
“I see that the cardinals – yes, some who criticise, and have the right to – but in general we are united and that helps a lot. Above all, the union with the bishops and the episcopal conference is what I see most clearly.
“That helps me a lot. I sleep well.”