Will Pope John Paul II retire

01:00 Thu 16th May 2002 |

On the eve of his 82nd birthday, the question of Pope John Paul II retiring has surfaced again.

In what appeared to be unsanctioned comments, Honduran Archbishop Oscar Maradiaga announced in Rome that the Pontiff does not rule out resigning if his health deteriorates further.

"The Pope is fully aware of his responsibility and when he realises that he can no longer go on, he will have the courage to say: I quit," he said.

Pope John Paul suffers from Parkinson's disease as well as knee and hip problems. For a man who started in office as an athletic 58-year-old who still enjoyed skiing, he has at times increasingly appeared to be barely able to carry out his official functions. His schedule of foreign travel continues, though, with Azerbaijan next on his list.

Can Popes retire
Technically, yes. And it has happened before - but not since 1415. Gregory XII resigned during the Great Western Schism when there were multiple claims to the Papacy. At least three other Popes have resigned or abdicated before death.

Apparently this Pope first entertained the possibility several years ago. Vatican officials told him then that the Roman Catholic Church would have difficulties coping with two Popes - one retired, one in office. The question of Papal infallibility is one that some followers would find hard to reconcile. If he retired to Poland, it might make things easier for his successor.

How long has John Paul II been Pope

The current Pope, born Karol Wojtyla in Poland, succeeded to the Papacy on 16th October 1978. His is now the fifth longest reign in Papal history and more than double the average length. By contrast, his predecessor, John Paul I was Pope for just 33 days.

Is he going to beat the record
Not sure he sees it that way, but anyway he still has a way to go. The first Pope, St Peter, led the Church for some 35 years from AD32-67, though the exact dates are unknown.

Pope Pius IX had the longest confirmed reign, from 1846 to 1878 (31 years, 7 months, 17 days). Beatified two years ago by the current Pope (the last step before sainthood), Pius IX started his reign a liberal but ended it renowned for his anti-Semitism and arch Conservatism.

Leo XIII reigned for 25 years and four months at the turn of the 20th century; Pius VI for 24 years, six months (1775-99).

How many Popes have there been
The Roman Catholic Church counts 264 popes, beginning with St. Peter and his martyred successors. John Paul II was the first non-Italian to be elected for 456 years.

How will the next Pope be chosen

The Sacred College of Cardinals gathers in The Vatican to elect a new Pope. The process is called a conclave ('locked with a key') as they are hidden from public scrutiny in the Sistine Chapel until they reach a decision.

The Cardinals are balloted, the votes tallied and the ballot papers burned. The chimney from the stove can be seen in St. Peter's Square. If the smoke is black it means a failed ballot; white smoke means a new pope has been chosen.

And who will be the next Pope

A question that taxes minds across Italy (they call it the loteria papali) and the rest of the Catholic world. The debate has been going on for the last several years.

In theory, any practising Roman Catholic man can be the Pope, but there is no doubt that he will be chosen from among the 122 electors in the College of Cardinals. 106 of them were appointed by John Paul II, which suggests that his successor will share his views on subjects like contraception, abortion, women's ordination and celibacy. 34 of them are Italian, and there may be pressure to choose an Italian.

Nevertheless, some of the names that crop up again and again in the loteria papali (favourites for the papacy are known as papabili) include Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos of Colombia and Austrian Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn.

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