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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Pope at 80: time to retire?

Thousands of priests joined a tired looking Pope John Paul II to celebrate his 80th birthday in Saint Peter's Square.

But there are growing calls for the ailing pontiff to give up his position and let a younger Pope take the helm. Parkinson's disease and five major operations have left him visibly frail.

But John Paul has given no hint of giving up his duties, and is renowned for saying, "Heaven is the time to rest. Now is the time to work." Although some around him have suggested he might retire if his symptoms of Parkinson's become incapacitating.

Would the Catholic Church benefit from a more energetic leader, or should the much-loved pontiff spend the rest of his days serving his flock?


Your reaction



The Pope is a figure who has fought on the side of truth for decades and those who have met him recently testify that his mind is still as sharp and active as it was when he combated Nazism and Communism

Simon Ashfield, Great Britain
The amazing observation that the Pope is old and frail has led to a typical outburst of illogical and bigoted statements that he is also mentally unstable. Look at the physical condition of Stephen Hawkins for example - he's still unquestionably a leading scientist. The Pope is a figure who has fought on the side of truth for decades and those who have met him recently testify that his mind is still as sharp and active as it was when he combated Nazism and Communism.
Simon Ashfield, Great Britain

I'm quite saddened by some of the comments I've seen. The Catholic Church is not fashionable at the moment. In fact it seems it's always being criticised by people who think it should be modernised. Changing doctrine to fit fashion as if it were a hemline is just not an option. Would these people be as quick to criticise other religions like Buddhism, Hindu or Islam as they are to Catholicism? Probably not, because then it tends to be called racism.
Kate, UK

This Pope is undoubtedly the greatest man of this century. He has led the world and the Catholic Church regarding morals, theology and politics. He is a man of mercy and forgiveness, as shown so recently in his apology and visit to the Holy Land. John Paul II has a visionary and incredible influence upon all aspects and areas of the world.
Anna, Canada

Pope John Paul II is plainly out of touch in many ways with "his" flock. His views against having women as priests, his anti-gay stance, and his views on contraception are clearly outdated and anachronistic. This has little to do with his age or health. The point is that he has done a major diservice to Catholics across the globe on many important counts and for this reason should step down. The fact that the current Pope cannot effectively communicate his sermons is secondary at best to his backward approach to Religion.
Silver Romanetz, Canada

I think that the Pope represents God to the world, and the world to God too, so he is a symbol not a president of a state. His illness and old age are part of our human life, and any discrimination in health or age is against the teaching of the Church, so the Pope must remain at the head of the Catholic Church unless he decides to resign.
Nasif Rafiq, Palestine

The Holy Father has not got the option of resigning. The Good Lord chose him and we should respect this. He has done a very good and honourable job to which we all grateful. May the Good Lord give him Good Health.
Robert Seruwagi, Uganda



It makes no sense to anoint a Queen or a Pope if they are going to retire like an ordinary person.

Jon Livesey, USA

I think the Church must revise the Papal succession laws. It would be very difficult for the Catholic community to thrive under a Pope who suffered from Alzheimer's, for instance. There must be some mechanism whereby a Pope who is not of sound mind, or one whose physical disabilities are so immense that they make it impossible for him to perform his job, can be replaced.
Charlene, Canada

It makes no sense to anoint a Queen or a Pope if they are going to retire like an ordinary person.
Jon Livesey, USA

Pope John Paul II should make his own decision, as I'm sure he will, with God's help. He is Christ's representative on earth. Would we be asking St Peter to retire?
Mary E. Vukasovich, Spain

Let him continue with his good work, he's a gift from God.
Maggie Mumbi, Zambia

Whether His Holiness should retire or not is not for us to decide. His appointment to the greatest position in the world was not decided by us. Let the Almighty who chose him to lead His flock decide on this. Let us pray for his good health rather than wasting our time on a decision, which is beyond our control.
Tony Sebaratnam, Sydney, Australia

Pope John Paul II should make his own decision, as I'm sure he will, with God's help. He is Christ's representative on earth. Would we be asking St Peter to retire?
Mary E. Vukasovich, Spain



John Paul II has shown that, on the whole, he knows what's best for his Church. He's quite capable of deciding when is the best for him to retire

Elwood, Brazil
An earlier reader's statement that the Church is "preaching old fashioned opinions" demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of what it means to be Catholic. The Church is not here to change with the world. It is here to change the world.
J. Hasik, USA

Why on earth should the Pope be forced to retire? The majority of Catholics around the world revere this man of God and his compassion for the downtrodden of the world. This is a question between himself and God. Indeed we should be praying that God gives him the strength to continue.
Francis Mulholland, Malta

Not only should the Pope retire, but he should also take the time to read and study the Bible. God has no need for a "representative" on earth, as He is omnipresent!
Stephen, USA

It really does not matter. Although he still has a sharp intellect, the Vatican's influence on the world as a whole is reducing every year. That is not the Pope's fault but the Catholic system remains out of step with the reality of how the world wants to live and be.
Han de Min, Netherlands (now UK)



Why on earth should the Pope be forced to retire? The majority of Catholics around the world revere this man of God and his compassion for the downtrodden of the world

Francis Mulholland, Malta
I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Pope were to announce his retirement for, say, January 2001, after the close of the Jubilee Year. For more than 21 years, John Paul II has shown that, on the whole, he knows what's best for his Church. He's quite capable of deciding when is the best time for him to retire (say) to Castelgandolfo as Pope Emeritus, leaving it to the College of Cardinals to elect his successor.
Elwood, Brazil

I can't get over the fact that another human being can be called God's representative on earth. Religion is the biggest business, and we are all victims of it besides politics and control.
Victor, USA



Why is there such a prejudice in society against the aged? If it is not the Pope, then it's the Queen or a football manager

Shazad H. Dad, England
The material man may be weak but the spiritual man has never been stronger. His vocation is to follow after his Master who gave Himself to total annihilation for the salvation of all mankind. Pope John Paul can serve mankind well as a spiritual leader.
Sean Taggart, Northern Ireland

Why is there such a prejudice in society against the aged? If it is not the Pope, then it's the Queen or a football manager. Mother Theresa kept her mantle until her death in 1997. I think the Catholic Church would benefit from a longer reign of the current Pope.
Shazad H. Dad, England

I'm filled with mixed emotions. As a practising Catholic, I believe the Church is stuck in the 19th Century. It amazes me how Pope John Paul can fly into places such as Mexico City and Rio and tell women they shouldn't practice birth control, when thousands of children are dying of hunger. On the other hand, this Pope has played a major role in tearing down the Iron Curtain. He's also done his best to bring Catholics closer to Jews and Moslems. For those things he is to be commended. I guess it all boils down to this - he may be the Pope, but he is still mortal. His thoughts are just as apt to be as wrong as mine.
Randall Collier, USA

Never mind the Pope. What about The Queen Mother?
Neil, UK

The present Pope has held back the Church from tackling the problems which it must eventually face up to. Birth control, ordaining women and marriage for priests will not go away and are contributing to a loss of church members.
Brian Barnes, USA



The whole Holy Roman Catholic Church should disband and go off into quiet retirement

Jason Ward, UK
I suspect he sees his position as his duty, and so will not be persuaded to retire for his benefit. As long as he is able to do the job and wishes to do so, he should have the right to continue. I just hope I have the same option in 50 years time. Just because someone is old, it shouldn't mean they don't get a say.
Mike F (an atheist), UK

There is nothing moral about denying people control of their lives and spreading AIDS though outdated teachings about family planning. The Pope should definitely make way for somebody who could change the Church into a positive force rather than a reactionary one.
Joe Charnock, USA

I agree with the comment posted by DH Frost from Wales. I've just returned from Easter week in Rome, but believe me when I say that the Pope is doing remarkably well. How many people do you know suffering from Parkinson's disease who can address a crowd of over 500,000 in St.Peter's Square in 61 different languages, switching languages at a rate of every 15 to 20 seconds?
Solange Rousseau, Canada



The Pope should find a pace that is comfortable and stay on until he is ready to step down

Victor Arencibia, USA
The whole Holy Roman Catholic Church should disband and go off into quiet retirement. The world would be a much better place for it.
Jason Ward, UK

The Pope should find a pace that is comfortable and stay on until he is ready to step down. This Pope has a vision and conviction that goes beyond the Catholic Church. He is going to be impossible to replace.
Victor Arencibia, USA



Who says that the Pope is God's representative on Earth? Only the Catholic Church

Graham, England
Who says that the Pope is God's representative on Earth? Only the Catholic Church.
Graham, England

I saw him in Rome last autumn. It's so sad. This man is old and tired. He's still incredibly valiant and concerned but looks utterly exhausted. We should not expect him to struggle on. There's nothing dishonourable about rest and retirement at 80!
Kath, England

The Pope's struggle against adversity is a perfect testimony to what he preaches. His actions inspire millions around the world to live on and fight for what they believe in. In a utilitarian culture today, people often judge one another by how visibly productive they are on the outside. This is exactly what the current Pope is preaching against. It is not up to any of us to decide, or even to discuss the future of the Papacy.
Brian Cheung, Montreal, Canada

What has the Pope done that makes people think he should retire? Nothing. He has been one of most popular Popes in history. So are we going to call for the job of every older person just because of his or her age? The Pope has not lost his mind or his love for the job, just some of his physical strength.
Matt Peak, USA

I agree with Carol. Although I am not a Catholic, even I know that the Pope does not simply retire. From what I remember from studying this in high school he passes on his knowledge and power to the next Pope before he dies. As Carol says, he is God's representative on Earth
Tim, England

John Paul's mind is as sharp as ever so why should he retire? I think that his uncompromising position on morals is very uncomfortable to many people. That is why there are so many calls for his retirement.
Greg Tereszczyk, USA

The Pope should retire. The problem is that he does not have to and is stubborn enough not to. He has set the Catholic Church back years. It is no longer a progressive religion as it was in the 1970's. Instead he is living and preaching old fashioned opinions in a world that is changing every year.
Andrew, UK/USA



Anyone who understands the rules of the Catholic Church will know that we can't just decide that a Pope is too old and should retire

Carol, UK
Pope John Paul II should not retire. He has been much better than his predecessors, and I think that his successor will be much worse.
Gorazd Cvetic, South Korea

Anyone who understands the rules of the Catholic Church will know that we can't just decide that a Pope is too old and should retire. The Pope is God's representative on earth and can't be looked upon like the Queen in terms of retirement for a younger person.
Carol, UK

The Pope has shown again and again that the acute mind which won him many doctorates is still functioning brilliantly - not least in his publications and addresses. He sees his old age and physical weakness (while still serving in a valued office) as a witness to the fact that elderly people are part of the human family and should be respected and treated with dignity, and not sidelined even if they are physically frail.
DH Frost, Wales/Cymru

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See also:

18 May 00 | Europe
Pope marks 80th birthday
10 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Bishop in Pope health row
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