(CNS) Continuing a papal tradition of finishing a predecessor's work in progress, Pope Francis intends to complete an encyclical -- on the virtue of faith -- begun during the pontificate of Pope Benedict XVI.
"I can confirm that the plan for an encyclical on faith, begun by Benedict XVI, has been taken up by the new pope," Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman, said in a May 24 email response to questions. He said it would "be premature" to guess when the encyclical would be completed.
The statement followed reports in Italian media claiming that the retired pope would be completing the encyclical himself.
In an article for his diocesan bulletin, Bishop Luigi Martella of Molfetta, Italy, had said that when he met Pope Francis in mid-May with other bishops from Italy's Puglia region, the pope told them that he had been worried about Pope Benedict's health, "but now he is much better."
Bishop Martella said Pope Francis "wanted to share a confidence, almost a revelation with us: Benedict XVI is finishing writing the encyclical on faith that will be signed by Pope Francis."
Responding to questions, Father Lombardi said, "I can absolutely deny that Benedict XVI is working on the planned encyclical."
In December, Father Lombardi had said Pope Benedict's encyclical on faith would be released in the first half of 2013. The encyclical would complete a trilogy on the three "theological virtues," following "Deus Caritas Est" (2005) on charity, and "Spe Salvi" (2007) on hope.
A pope picking up work begun under his predecessor, adding his own thoughts and style to it, is common practice. For example, a document about the church's charitable activity begun under Pope John Paul II became the framework for the second section of Pope Benedict's 2005 encyclical, "Deus Caritas Est."
Bishop Martella said Pope Francis also told the Puglia bishops that he was planning an encyclical on poverty, "understood not in an ideological and political sense, but in an evangelical sense." It will be called "Beati pauperes" -- "Blessed Are the Poor," the bishop said.