Belgian cardinal sees Pope abdication possible in 2001

       Reuters News Service is reporting that Cardinal Godfried Danneels, who heads Belgium's Catholic Church, was quoted on Thursday as saying he would not be surprised if Pope John Paul II opted to abdicate next year. 

        According to Reuters, asked during interviews for a book published on Thursday whether a retirement age of 75 for bishops should also apply to pontiffs, Cardinal Danneels replied: "The question will inevitably be posed in the same form to popes. And it would not surprise me if the Pope were to retire after 2000. He wanted at all cost to reach the jubilee year 2000, but I consider him capable of retiring afterwards." 

          There is as yet no other indication, however, that John Paul II, despite battling age and Parkinson's disease, is set to step down. Many who have seen him recently report that his mind remains vivid, and he was said to be especially alert during Jubilee ceremonies, including entrustment of the world to the Immaculate Heart, on October 8. But others report him in an increasingly frail state.

            Last January, German bishop Karl Lehmann caused a storm when he aired the idea that the Pope might one day retire if he felt he could no longer do his job properly. 

           Usually popes remain on the throne of Peter for life. The last pope to leave willingly was Celestine V in 1294. There was also a case in the 15th century of a pontiff leaving to resolve a dispute when there was more than one pope. According to Canon 332 of Church Law, a pope can resign but he has to do it freely and, since he is Supreme Pontiff, no one has to accept the resignation. 

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