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Will the Pope Retire? - A Prediction

by Christopher A. Ferrara

Predictions by columnists are a dime a dozen, but I will make one here: 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. I make this prediction with dread, not knowing who, in the struggle for power in the Vatican, would succeed him as Pope. Indeed, as things now stand our best hope for a decisive papal act toward a restoration of good order in the Church lies with the very man who is succumbing to a terrible disease before our eyes.

Here are the facts: the Pope is on the verge of becoming what my wife’s own grandmother became under the onslaught of this disease - bedridden, unable to speak or even to feed himself. All the signs were there during the Pope’s trip to Azerbaijan, as reported by CNN and other media outlets.

First of all, the Pope had to be removed from his airplane by a special lift. He can no longer negotiate the steps down to the tarmac. His greeting speech had to be cut short and completed by a Russian-speaking priest because the Pope did not have the breath to finish it. CNN notes that at the start of the outdoor papal mass "it took the 82-year-old pontiff about a minute to walk fewer than 10 meters along a specially built railing. He was helped by his aides and used his cane to reach the altar." During Mass the Pope "seemed short of breath and delegated a priest to read part of his Russian-language homily for him as he has in the past few days." The Pope no longer walks about freely, but is wheeled almost everywhere on a chariot-like contraption. He can no longer hold up his head or control the shaking of both hands, which prevents him from holding a document or (it is rumored) feeding himself.

Barring a miracle, the Pope’s condition can only get worse - to the point of complete immobility and speechlessness. A Pope who can neither move nor speak cannot fulfill the duties of his office. And yet, with modern medical care, the Pope could live perhaps another ten years in a physically vegetative state, unable to communicate even though his mind remains intact.

These inescapable medical facts have undoubtedly prompted prominent Cardinals, including no less than Cardinal Ratzinger, to float comments to the press in recent days to the effect that, of course, the Pope would retire if he could no longer go on - a subject that was taboo only a year ago. Such comments are not made by Vatican prelates without careful planning and discussion beforehand. I would venture that arrangements for the Pope’s resignation have already been put in place, and that a document confirming his resignation has already been prepared for his review and signature, if it has not already been signed for later publication once total incapacity sets in.

This is a terrible situation for the Church, because the Holy Ghost does not guarantee that events like the great Western Schism (with competing popes, both claiming allegiance from loyal Catholics) cannot happen again. This is a time for great trepidation - and prayer. The Virgin of Fatima said that the Holy Father will have much to suffer if Her requests are not granted. And so will the Church suffer in this time of unparalleled ecclesial crisis. Pray that this Pope does what must be done to begin the restoration of the Church, while he can still act. For we know not what comes our way.