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'He has good days and bad days': Cardinal Wilton Gregory says Pope Francis' health is normal

The Archbishop of Washington will speak on Pope Francis and other topics during an Easter Sunday morning interview on Face the Nation.

(Face the Nation/Twitter)

Cardinal Wilton Gregory of Washington says the apparent frailty of Pope Francis in recent public appearances is nothing to be alarmed about, simply the product of day-to-day variance for a man in old age.

The nation’s Black cardinal, who leads the Archdiocese of Washington and is one of Francis' closest U.S. advisors, made the comments in an interview scheduled to air Easter Sunday on Face the Nation. He will appear on the 10:30am ET show with Episcopal Bishop Mariann Budde of Washington and CBS News correspondent Ed O’Keefe.

“I think for a man who’s 87, he has good days and bad days, and if I'm given the grace to reach that age, I suspect I will have good days and days,” Gregory said, noting that the pontiff showed renewed vigor this week.

“On Palm Sunday, he didn't give the homily, which was expected and which was ordinary. But then [Thursday] at the Chrism Mass, he came in and people were amazed, and earlier, at the [Wednesday] Audience, he walked onto the platform.”

Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict XVI after his historic resignation in 2013, has experienced various health issues over his ten-year pontificate, including some that carried over from his time as Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has walked with a cane sporadically since 2022 and has often used a wheelchair due to knee pain and inflammation, among other concerns. 

The pope underwent surgery for a hernia last summer, after which many onlookers increasingly speculated that he might follow in his predecessor’s path and voluntarily resign the pontificate prior to death—a move that had not occurred in nearly 600 years before Benedict XVI, who stepped aside for health reasons.

Francis quashed such rumors in December 2023, just before his 87th birthday, saying he would not resign but that “old age does not come by itself… It presents itself as it is.”

The pontiff communicated along similar lines last week, after illness forced him to reduce his speaking participation in public appearances at the Vatican in January and early March. In a new memoir released on March 19, “Life: My Story Through History,” Francis wrote that there is no substance to the idea that he is planning to jump ship—which many of his critics are eager for.

“This is, I repeat, a distant possibility, because I truly do not have any cause serious enough to make me think of resigning,” he wrote. “Some people may have hoped that sooner or later, perhaps after a stay in the hospital, I might make an announcement of that kind, but there is no risk of it: Thanks be to God, I enjoy good health, and as I have said, there are many projects to bring to fruition, God willing.”

Francis is among the oldest-serving popes in modern history, though well behind Pope Leo XIII, who served into his 90s and died in 1903. Leo, who also employed a cane in his later years, is said to have used it simply as a precaution—intentionally walking under his own power when rumors of his ill health hit the headlines.

Following Pope Francis’ unexpected jaunt into the Vatican’s Paul VI Audience Hall this week for his Wednesday morning General Audience, Cardinal Gregory opined in his interview that the pontiff’s bouts with medical issues are not something the media should sensationalize.

“He’s exhibiting the health issues that a man of his age would have. What we do, unfortunately, is that we focus on one dimension—‘Oh, he's had a bad day,’” he said.  

“Well, let me sign up for a bad day every once in a while, because they do happen.”

Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger.

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