Pope Francis hints willingness to retire as he talks about 'time limit' for church posts

Pope Francis tries to take a cap as he arrives to lead a special audience for members of the Renewal in the Holy Spirit movement in Saint Peter's Square at the Vatican on July 3, 2015.Reuters

In another indication of his willingness to relinquish the leadership of the 1.2 billion-member Roman Catholic Church if the need arises, Pope Francis said the Roman Catholic Church should not have leaders who cling to their positions for a long time similar to dictators.

Addressing some 30,000 participants of an inter-denominational rally of Christians at St. Peter's Square before starting his "homecoming" tour of South America on Sunday, the 78-year-old Pope said Church leaders should always prioritise serving the people, and not keeping their positions.

"There should be a time limit to positions (in the Church), which in reality are positions of service," the Roman Catholic Church leader said in his address, parts of which were extemporaneous.

The pontiff added that it is only "convenient" for leadership positions in the Catholic Church to have time limits.

"There are no leaders for life in the Church. This occurs in some countries where a dictatorship exists," he said.

Pope Francis earlier said that he is ready to resign if he felt he could no longer lead the Catholic Church properly due to poor health or other reasons.

He has, however, rejected the idea of setting an automatic retirement age for Popes, for example, at 80 years old.

Two years ago, Pope Francis' predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, became the first Roman Catholic Church leader to resign in six centuries.

Pope Francis earlier said that Pope Benedict XVI's resignation "should not be considered an exception, but an institution." The former Pope currently serves as Pope Emeritus.

Pope Francis also emphasised that the Holy Spirit should be the only one permanent in the Roman Catholic Church.

"Let's be clear. The only one who cannot be substituted in the Church is the Holy Spirit," the Argentinian pontiff told his audience.