Pope's will shows he considered resigning

Click to follow
The Independent Online

In the Church's Jubilee year of 2000, when Pope John Paul turned 80 and was already an invalid, the desire to quit as pontiff was prominent in his thoughts, his will reveals. The document was released to journalists yesterday, one day after it was read to cardinals meeting in the Vatican.

In the Church's Jubilee year of 2000, when Pope John Paul turned 80 and was already an invalid, the desire to quit as pontiff was prominent in his thoughts, his will reveals. The document was released to journalists yesterday, one day after it was read to cardinals meeting in the Vatican.

In a fragment written in 2000, the Pope wrote: "Now in the year that I reach the age of 80, I must ask myself if it is not time to repeat, with the biblical Simeon, 'Nunc dimittis', 'Lord lettest thou thy servant depart in peace'." In the New Testament, the priest Simeon blessed Jesus when he was a child then asked his permission to be allowed to leave.

The Pope's will goes on: "I hope that He will help me to recognise up to what point I must continue this service [as Pope] to which I was called on 13 May 1978." There have been several calls for the Pope to resign during the past few years, especially in 2003 when he was celebrating his 25th year in the job and Parkinson's disease was making it increasingly difficult for him to travel, speak and conduct the numerous ceremonies required of him.

This year, the debate over a possible resignation surfaced at the highest level when Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican's secretary of state and most senior official, said resignation was "a question for the Pope's own conscience".

Papal resignation is rare, the most famous case being the reluctant pope Celestine V, who quit in 1295 after only six months in the job. Most commentators interpreted John Paul's decision to soldier on to the bitter end as a way to bear witness to the nature of suffering and mortality in the most public way possible. Few have hinted that the Pope himself may have cherished the desire to stop. But his will suggests that, given a clear sign from God, he might have called it a day five years before he died.

But Cardinal Justin Rigali, Archbishop of Philadelphia, told journalists yesterday: "The Holy Father in his testament did not speak of resignation as I remember it."

The Pope's will consisted of 15 sheets of paper, some with only a few lines on them, written between 1979 and his death. It reveals that early in his papacy he considered being buried in his native Poland, but said he would leave it up to the Church to decide. He will be buried in the crypt of St Peter's basilica where many other popes lie.

In his magnificent palace, the Pope seems to have acquired few personal possessions of any importance, and his treatment of them in the will is dismissive. "I am not leaving behind any property which needs to be taken care of," he wrote. "Everyday items can be given away as seems opportune."

He instructed that his personal papers be burnt, and left this to his secretary Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwsz, one of only three people mentioned by name in the document. "I ask that Don Stanislaw watch over this," he wrote, "whom I thank for his co-operation and understanding help over so many years." The other two men mentioned were the former chief rabbi of Rome, Elio Toaff, who welcomed the Pope to Rome's central synagogue in 1986, the first time a pontiff had paid such a sign of respect to Judaism; and the late Polish cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. All the Pope's close relatives are dead.

Tens of thousands queued yesterday to see his body, but after the chaos of Wednesday, when millions of mourners brought the city to near collapse, the day was relatively calm. The funeral is at 10am today, before more than 100 crowned heads and national leaders.

Comments