Honduran cardinal fuels rumours as Pope turns 82
John Paul II does not rule out resigning as Pope if his health deteriorates further, a Honduran cardinal has told reporters in Rome.
Italian TV says Archbishop Oscar Maradiaga's announcement is likely to fuel the debate about the ability of the ailing Pontiff to continue in his position.
The Vatican has declined to comment, and BBC correspondent David Willey in Rome said the cardinal was speaking off the cuff.
"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," Archbishop Maradiaga was quoted as saying by AFP news agency.
Pope John Paul will be 82 tomorrow. He suffers from Parkinson's disease - an incurable degenerative disorder - and is crippled by knee and hip problems.
Next week he is due to depart for Azerbaijan and Bulgaria as part of his efforts to improve relations with Muslims and Orthodox Christians. Further onerous travel plans this year include returns to Canada, Latin America and Poland.
At a general audience in St Peter's Square on Wednesday, the Pope appeared to rule out any immediate intention on his part to lay down his high office.
Correspondents say the Vatican is sensitive about allowing the Pope to appear in a wheelchair and has been improvising with a mobile platform during public ceremonies.
Under canon law, it is technically possible for a pope to resign, but no pope has ever left office voluntarily in modern times. In the event of a papal resignation, a conclave of cardinals would have to be summoned immediately to elect a successor.
Sunday Times (Perth)
17 May 2002