VATICAN CITY -- Pope Francis says he has no intention of quitting the papacy -- a possibility opened up by his predecessor Emeritus Pope Benedict XVI.
The pope, responding to a question from a young person at a Vatican event, said on Sunday "I never thought of quitting being pope, or of leaving because of the many responsibilities."
The pope has previously said he envisioned a short papacy before going on "to the Father's house," but he has never specifically ruled out following in Benedict's footsteps. Benedict retired in 2013, the first pope to step down in 600 years.
The pope spoke at a Vatican gathering for the Scholas Occurentes global educational initiative that he launched. George Clooney, accompanied by his wife Amal, and Richard Gere were honored for their contributions.
The question of the number of popes who have retired is a bit of a trick question, in that the answer is based on a murky historical record.
The short answer is, scholars are certain that at least four popes stepped down while still alive, but as many as eight may have.
Benedict IX sold the papacy to his godfather and retired around 1044. Gregory VI, Benedict IX's godfather, was forced to resign around 1046 because he bought the papacy. Celestine V resigned in 1294 after being pope for only five months because he was a hermit by inclination who was "unprepared and unfit" for the role. Gregory XII retired in 1425 to end what was known as the "Great Schism," a division over ideals within the Catholic Church that nearly brought the whole institution down.
Other popes that may have retired include: Pontian (became pope in 230 and likely resigned in 235); Marcellinus (became pope in 296 and resigned or died around 304); Liberius (became pope in 352 and may have resigned around 366); John XVIII (became pope in 1003 and resigned or died around 1009.)
Earlier this month, Pope Francis made headlines when he said he is willing to create a commission to study whether women can be deacons in the Catholic Church, signaling an openness to letting women serve in ordained ministry currently reserved to men.
Francis agreed to the proposal during a closed-door meeting with some 900 superiors of women's religious orders.
Deacons are ordained ministers but are not priests, though they can perform many of the same functions as priests: preside at weddings, baptisms and funerals, and preach. They cannot, however, celebrate Mass.
Expanding opportunities for women in the Church has been debated for years.
Currently, married men -- who are also mostly excluded from the Roman Catholic priesthood -- can serve as deacons. Women cannot, however, though historians say women served as deacons in the early Church.