Cardinal adds to speculation that the Pope may step down

Click to follow
The Independent Online

An influential European cardinal has added his voice to months of speculation that Pope John Paul II, 80 and frail, may resign.

An influential European cardinal has added his voice to months of speculation that Pope John Paul II, 80 and frail, may resign.

Cardinal Godfried Danneels of Belgium suggested John Paul might step aside next year, now that he has achieved his dream of leading the Catholic Church into the new millennium.

Mention of the issue has angered the Vatican, which sees such talk as seeking to weaken the papacy. "This is the personal opinion of Cardinal Danneels, which we do not confirm," a brief statement by the pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, said yesterday.

Cardinal Danneels, who has been mentioned as a possible successor to John Paul, is the highest-ranking churchman to voice the thought publicly. A leading German bishop, Karl Lehmann, said in February that he thought the Pope would step down if he believed he could no longer lead the church.

John Paul's speech is slurred and his hands tremble, both symptoms associated with Parkinson's disease, a progressive neurological disorder. Since hip surgery following a fall in 1994, he has had difficulty walking and climbing stairs.

He looked weak and used a cane for support when he received the Queen at the Vatican on Tuesday. His voice was barely audible.

Cardinal Danneel's comments were reported by Belgian and Italian media from from a book to be published on Monday. Speaking about the retirement age for bishops, which is 75, he was quoted as saying: "I wouldn't be surprised if the Pope also retired after 2000. He absolutely wanted to reach the jubilee year, but I believe he would retire afterward."

The Holy Year, marking the start of Christianity's third millennium, has severely tested the Pope, who has led major public events at least twice a week and maintained daily audiences with church officials and foreign dignitaries. But he has never signaled an intention of stepping down, often speaking of his duty and how he has come to terms with his advancing years. Mr Navarro-Valls said recently that the Pope planned to keep up his travels, mentioning such locations as Syria, Malta, Ukraine and Australia.

Comments