Pope Francis to Slovakian Jesuits: ‘Some people wanted me to die’ amid health problems

Pope Francis address an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021. Pope Francis addresses an ecumenical meeting at the apostolic nunciature in Bratislava, Slovakia, Sept. 12, 2021./ Vatican Media.

In a private meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia on Sept. 12, Pope Francis said that there were people who wanted him to die after he underwent colon surgery in July.

During the encounter, a Jesuit priest asked the pope how he was doing, to which he replied: “Still alive, even though some people wanted me to die.”

“I know there were even meetings between prelates who thought the pope’s condition was more serious than the official version. They were preparing for the conclave,” he added. “Patience! Thank God, I’m all right.”

Pope Francis answered questions from fellow Jesuits at a closed-door meeting in Slovakia’s capital city, Bratislava, during his Sept. 12-15 visit to the country.

The trip was his first since being hospitalized on July 4 for an operation to relieve severe stricture of the colon caused by diverticulitis. The three-hour surgery included a left hemicolectomy, the removal of one side of the colon.

After the operation, false rumors began to circulate on social media and in online posts that Pope Francis might soon resign, based in part on other unsubstantiated claims that the pope was possibly suffering from a “degenerative” and “chronic” disease.

The text of the pope’s private Sept. 12 meeting with Jesuits in Slovakia was published by the Jesuit magazine La Civiltà Cattolica on Sept. 21.

During the encounter, one priest spoke with Pope Francis about tension in the Catholic Church in Slovakia, saying that some people saw Francis as “heterodox,” while others “idealize you.”

“We Jesuits try to overcome this division,” he said, asking: “How do you deal with people who look at you with suspicion?”

Pope Francis noted that “there is, for example, a large Catholic television channel that has no hesitation in continually speaking ill of the pope.”

“I personally deserve attacks and insults because I am a sinner, but the Church does not deserve them. They are the work of the devil,” he said.

The pope added that there were also clerics who had made “nasty comments about me.”

“I sometimes lose patience, especially when they make judgments without entering into a real dialogue. I can’t do anything there. However, I go on without entering their world of ideas and fantasies. I don’t want to enter it and that’s why I prefer to preach, preach...” he said.

“Some people accuse me of not talking about holiness," he continued. “They say I always talk about social issues and that I’m a communist. Yet I wrote an entire apostolic exhortation on holiness, Gaudete et exsultate.”

The pope went on to address his recent restrictions on the celebration of the Traditional Latin Mass, which were made in the July 16 motu proprio Traditionis custodes.

“Now I hope that with the decision to stop the automatism of the ancient rite we can return to the true intentions of Benedict XVI and John Paul II,” he said. “From now on, those who want to celebrate with the Vetus Ordo [Traditional Latin Mass] must ask permission from Rome as is done with biritualism.”

Biritualism is the temporary or permanent privilege of a priest to celebrate the liturgy and administer the sacraments in more than one rite, such as the Latin Rite and one of the Eastern rites.

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Pope Francis described reports that some young priests had asked for permission to offer the Traditional Latin Mass from their bishop a month after ordination as “a phenomenon that indicates that we are going backward.”

In an earlier part of the meeting, Francis had lamented an “ideology of going backward,” which he said was not a universal problem in the Church, but affected some countries.

“The temptation to go backward. We are suffering this today in the Church,” he said.

Francis recounted an anecdote told to him by a cardinal about two of his newly ordained priests who asked for permission to study Latin to be able to celebrate the Mass well.

According to the pope, the cardinal responded “with a sense of humor,” telling the priests: “But there are many Hispanics in the diocese! Study Spanish to be able to preach. Then, when you have studied Spanish, come back to me and I’ll tell you how many Vietnamese there are in the diocese, and I’ll ask you to study Vietnamese. Then, when you have learned Vietnamese, I will give you permission to study Latin.”

The cardinal made the priests “‘land,’ he made them return to earth,” the pope commented.

“I go ahead, not because I want to start a revolution,” Pope Francis said. “I do what I feel I must do. It takes a lot of patience, prayer and a lot of charity.”

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This report was updated at 5:45 a.m. MDT to include the pope’s comments on the Traditional Latin Mass.