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Monday, 1 July, 2002, 12:58 GMT 13:58 UK
Pope ends resignation rumours
John Paul II at Vatican window
The Pope says God will decide when his job is finished

The Pope intends to remain in office until the day he dies, according to a leading Italian newspaper.

There has been growing speculation that John Paul II could be forced to resign because of ill health.

He is 82, and has found it increasingly difficult to cope with lengthy public appearances.

But a front-page story in the Milan daily Corriere della Sera says the pontiff has no intention of standing down.


Let us hope that the prophets of doom will now stop talking about his resignation

Cardinal Tonini

The article was written by Vittorio Messori, the journalist who in 1994 helped to produce the Pope's best-selling book "Crossing the Threshold of Hope".

Mr Messori did not name his source for the story, but said his information was "recent and certain".

God's will

In the article he sums up what he believes can be "deduced" about the Pope's thinking.

Celestine V
Celestine V: The last pope to resign

"The force to continue is not my problem but that of Christ who wanted to call me, though unworthy, to be his vicar on Earth.

"In his mysterious design, He has brought me here. And it will be He who decides my fate."

The article will come as no surprise to many Vatican watchers who have long believed the Pope would never consider resignation.

But his growing frailty in recent months has led some cardinals to speculate that John Paul II might be forced to quit because of ill health.

Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga, of Honduras, said recently he thought the Pope "would have the courage" to resign if he was no longer able to continue his ministry.

And there was speculation that the Pope might use a trip to his native Poland, in August, to announce his retirement.

Precedents

Resignation is allowed under church law, but in modern times no pope has left the job before his death.

The last pope to stand down voluntarily was Celestine V, in 1294.

Lengthy Papacies
Pius IX
(1846-78)
31 years 7 months
Leo XIII
(1878-1903)
25 years 5 months
Pius XII
(1939-58)
19 years 7 months
John Paul II
(1978- )
23 years

In the case of the present pope, there is no doubt that the demands of the job have become a strain on a man who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

Earlier this year, I saw him at his day of prayer for world peace, in Assisi, and at a rally for young people in St Peter's Square, in Rome.

His physical decline is painfully obvious for all to see. He walks only short distances, his speech is slurred, and he tires quickly.

But his aides insist that his mind is still sharp, and he is clearly lifted by the rapturous reception he receives when he makes public appearances.

Prayers

On Sunday, he used his weekly address to thank the faithful for helping to keep him going.

John Paul II
John Paul II: The strain has become obvious
"My ministry is supported by the incessant prayer of the people of God," he said.

"In the moments of great difficulty and suffering, this spiritual force is a real help."

The Vatican recently suggested that the Pope's overseas trips might have to be curtailed, because of his ill health.

But it has now been confirmed that he will go ahead with visits to Canada, Guatemala and Mexico, beginning in late July.

It will be the Pope's 97th foreign visit.

Italian Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, himself 87, said he hoped there would now be an end to the speculation about the health of the Pope.

"Let us hope that the prophets of doom will now stop talking about his resignation," he told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

"The Pope has hidden nothing of his current illness. He has not been ashamed to show himself as weak, fatigued.

"He feels divine will guiding him, and for that reason will never quit."


Talking PointTALKING POINT
Job for life
Should a Pope resign his position?
See also:

16 May 02 | Europe
25 Sep 01 | Europe
10 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
15 Jun 99 | Europe
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