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A Renewed Prediction: The Pope Will Resign

by Christopher A. Ferrara

On June 26, 2002, in this column, I made the following prediction: "John Paul II will be forced to retire from the papacy, becoming the first Pope to do so since Pope Gelasius in the 12th Century. I base this prediction upon the inevitable progress of the Pope’s Parkinson’s disease, which has already made it nearly impossible for him to perform his public duties …"

Predictions are a perilous business, but I feel strongly about this one  —  especially after reading a Fox News story on February 7, 2005 concerning the Pope’s current hospitalization for life-threatening spasms that were cutting off his breathing. The Pope’s hospitalization has been extended for several more days, as a "precaution," Fox reports, even though the Pope was pronounced "stable" and ready to return to the Vatican only two days before.

This news prompted renewed speculation about whether the Pope will be forced to retire due to the advance of the Parkinson’s. In response to a direct question whether the Pope would now retire, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican Secretary of State, made this extremely enigmatic remark: "Let's leave this hypothesis up to the Pope's conscience." No denial, mind you, but a reference to the Pope’s conscience.

So it seems that, according to Sodano, there is now an issue of conscience before the Pope: should he, in fact, step down from the Seat of Peter? And then Sodano added this: "If there is a man who loves the Church more than anybody else, who is guided by the Holy Spirit, if there's a man who has marvelous wisdom, that's him. We must have great faith in the Pope. He knows what to do."

He knows what to do? What is that supposed to mean? As Fox notes, "Vatican observers said that since Sodano had not closed the door on the issue and had responded to the question, it could mean top Church officials were discussing such a possible scenario. Popes can resign but cannot be forced to do so." Of course they’re discussing it. Sodano would never have made such a remark if something were not cooking in the Vatican kitchen.

John Paul II is now in what the doctors call Stage 5 Parkinson’s disease  —  the final stage. In Stage 5 "the patient is usually unable to take care of himself or herself and may not be able to stand or walk during this stage. A patient at Stage 5 usually requires constant one-on-one nursing care."

That describes John Paul’s condition perfectly. And, as Fox further notes, "The latest illness led him to cancel his first audiences in 16 months, and the list of missed appearances is growing."

How much longer can this go on? How much longer before the Pope finds himself in a "locked-in" state, totally paralyzed and unable to speak? A Pope in a locked-in state would effectively not be the Pope at all, except in name. I believe the Pope knows this, and that he has, accordingly, made arrangements, including written directives, for his retirement due to illness. I believe Sodano knows of these arrangements, which await execution, and that his cryptic remark refers to them.

And so I repeat my prediction: barring some immediately fatal medical incident, John Paul II will retire due to the effects of Parkinson’s disease. And then the most important event since Vatican II will take place: the conclave for election of the next Pope. Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us.