Pope Francis has hinted he may resign if his health continues to deteriorate.
Speculation of an imminent resignation has been growing since the 85-year-old was forced to cancel his trip to Africa after doctors warned he needed rest after a knee injury.
Pope Francis, who is Bishop of Rome and head of the Catholic Church, said it was “a painful thing for me not to be able to do this trip” after wanting to promote peace in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.
Rumours surrounding the pope’s future were fuelled by a sudden decision to call the meeting of cardinals, a formal meeting to elect a new pope at the end of August, and a visit to L’Aquila in Italy which is associated with Pope Celestine V who resigned the papacy in 1294.
In an interview on Monday, the pope dismissed the idea of resigning in the near future, saying the idea “never crossed my mind”.
He also denied rumours of having cancer, joking that his doctors “didn’t tell me anything about it”.
But he added he might resign someday if his health made it impossible for him to run the church, something which was previously seen as unthinkable.
“When the time comes that I see that I can’t do it [run the Church, because of bad health] I will do it [resign],” he said.
“And that was the great example of Pope Benedict. It was such a very good thing for the Church. He told popes to stop in time. He is one of the greats, Benedict.”
Benedict XVI was the first pope to resign in 2013 instead of ruling for life for more than 600 years.
A resignation from Pope Francis would make him the second person in less than a decade.
It comes after the pope was pictured using a wheelchair for the first time in public in May due to his mobility issues.
He was suffering from knee pain caused by a flare-up of sciatica – a nerve condition that causes leg ache.
But he confirmed that he is on track to visit Canada at the end of July and hopes to travel to Moscow and Kyiv soon after.
He also revealed he was suffering from a “small fracture” in the knee and doctors said he would need 20 more days of therapy which has preventing him from carrying out some duties.