Pope Francis has said the time may soon come when he needs to consider stepping down – and would do so if he felt his health meant that could not serve in the way he should.

He made the comments at the end of a trip to Canada – where he apologised to indigenous people – which involved extensive travel and long days.

The 85-year-old pontiff stressed that for the moment he intends to continue in his duties – and will be guided by God as to when he will step down, if he steps down at all.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES – JANUARY 16: Pope Francis waves to thousands of followers as he arrives at the Manila Cathedral on January 16, 2015 in Manila, Philippines. Pope Francis will visit venues across Leyte and Manila during his visit to the Philippines from January 15 – 19. The visit is expected to attract crowds in the millions as Filipino Catholics flock to catch a glimpse of the leader of the Catholic Church in the Philippines for the first time since 1995. The Pope will begin the tour in Manila, then travelling to Tacloban to visit areas devastated by Typhoon Haiyan before returning to Manila to hold a mass at Rizal Park. The Philippines is the only Catholic majority nation in Asia with around 90 percent of the population professing the faith. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

“It is not a catastrophe to change Pope, it is not a taboo,” he told journalists from a wheelchair on the plane from Canada’s Arctic territory to Rome.

“The door [to retiring] is open – it is a normal option. But until today I have not knocked on that door. I have not felt the need to think about this possibility – that is not to say that in two days’ time I might not start thinking about it.”

Over recent months Pope Francis has suffered ongoing knee trouble that has impacted his mobility. He spent much of his visit to Canada in a wheelchair.

But he has previously dismissed speculation about more serious, life-threatening illnesses.

“This trip has been intense,” he said. “I don’t think I can keep travelling with the same rhythm I used to at my age and with the limitation of this knee.

Pope Francis (R) speaks to members of the Indigenous community at Muskwa Park in Maskwacis, Alberta, Canada, on July 25, 2022. – Pope Francis on Monday apologized for the “evil” inflicted on the Indigenous peoples of Canada on the first day of a visit focused on addressing decades of abuse committed at Catholic institutions. (Photo by Patrick T. FALLON / AFP) (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Getty Images)

“I either need to save myself a little in order to continue serving the Church, or I need to consider the possibility of stepping aside.”

The Pope – whose predecessor Benedict XVI retired due to ill health in 2013 – did say that he was keen to visit Ukraine soon, but would have to seek advice of his doctors first.

On his visit to Canada, his sombre focus had been to apologise to indigenous people of the region for the wrongs committed against them by those within the Catholic Church.

MASKWACIS, AB – JULY 25: Pope Francis wears a traditional headdress that was gifted to him by indigenous leaders following his apology during his visit on July 25, 2022 in Maskwacis, Canada. The Pope is touring Canada, meeting with Indigenous communities and community leaders in an effort to reconcile the harmful legacy of the church’s role in Canada’s residential schools. (Photo by Cole Burston/Getty Images)

The Pope appeared most engaged in his interactions with local people – particularly survivors of abuse at Catholic schools.

But there were times during some of the formal proceedings with politicians that his tiredness on a busy trip looked obvious.

He spoke to journalists on the plane back about a range of topics and became animated in his criticism of so called “traditionalists” in the Church – as it happens, those most likely to welcome a change in pontiff.

“A church that doesn’t evolve is a church that goes backwards,” Pope Francis said.

“Many people who call themselves traditionalists, they are not, they just go backwards. That is a sin.

“Tradition is the living faith of the dead, instead their attitude is the dead faith of the living. It is important to understand the role of tradition – a musician used to say the tradition is the guarantee of the future, it is not a piece that belongs in a museum.”

Source: BBC