(RNS) — Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the second-highest-ranking official at the Vatican, told reporters on Thursday that reports predicting Pope Francis will retire due to his ailing health "are just rumors."
"There is nothing to comment on," Parolin said when asked about the possibility that Francis might follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, and abdicate the papal chair.
Parolin's statements echoed others who had spoken to the Pope in recent weeks and uniformly dismissed the idea of Francis stepping down.
Brazilian bishops, visiting the Vatican for their consultation with the Pope, told Vatican media outlets on Monday that Francis said he plans to remain at the head of the Catholic Church "for as long as God allows it."
Cardinal Óscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga, who advises the Pope within the Council of Cardinals, said in an interview June 9 that reports of Francis' abdication are "fake news" and constitute nothing mote than "a cheap soap opera." Cardinal Kevin Farrell, the prefect of the Vatican Dicastery for the Laity, Family and Life and a papal ally, told America magazine that reports of Francis' resignation represent "wishful thinking" by his opponents.
Francis' physical health struggles include severe pain in his right knee that has forced him to use a wheelchair since May. Recently, Francis has been seen relying on a cane to address the faithful in St. Peter's Square for his Wednesday reflections, which in recent weeks have centered on the ails and challenges of old age.
His immobility apparently caused the postponement of a long-planned papal visit to the African countries of South Sudan and Congo, originally scheduled for July. The Vatican announced last month that Francis would not be making the trip, following the advice of his doctors.
The 85-year-old Pope has also scheduled a summit of cardinals at the Vatican on the unusual date of Aug. 27, prompting rumors that Francis might be setting the stage for his successor. In that same month, the Pope will be visiting the tomb of Pope Celestine V, which Benedict XVI visited four years before his resignation, considered a first sign of his intention to step down as pontiff.
Parolin's comments on Thursday took place on the sidelines of the COOPERA conference organized by the Italian government to foster cooperation with international and nonprofit organizations. The conference focused on promoting aid and support for struggling populations in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic and in the war in Ukraine.
Asked about Francis' interest in fostering dialogue between the Russian Federation and Ukraine and its allies, Parolin said that "there are no new developments." While stating that the Catholic institution "always remains open and hopeful" that there might still be space for dialogue, "there have been no signals so far."
Parolin underlined that "weapons don't build peace," supporting the Vatican stance that sending weapons to Ukraine does not constitute a viable option for reconciliation, but added that this must take into account a nation's "legitimate defense."
The cardinal said that "there need to be a great political will by everyone" to ensure that poor populations continue to have access to wheat and grain, which have become scarcer in countries that relied on Ukraine's large farming exports. Most importantly, he added, "grain must not be used as a political and military tool."
Regarding the possibility that Ukraine might join the European Union, Parolin said it could be seen as a gesture "of encouragement and support" for the embattled country.