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Top Cardinals' retirement rumoured

While Pope John Paul II is likely to remain active for some time, rumours suggest that two of his key deputies - Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger and Angelo Sodano - are about to step down.

Ratzinger is Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, while Sodano holds the position of Vatican Secretary of State. Both cardinals passed the mandatory retirement age of 75 last year.

The source of the reports is the Italian magazine L'Espresso, which also says that the Holy Father has cut back on his dosage of medication during his summer vacation at Castelgandolfo. He is consequently speaking and moving his limbs with greater difficulty. However he is likely to regain strength when he resumes a higher dosage at the end of his vacation.

L'Espresso speculates that Sodano will be replaced by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, currently the prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, or possibly Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe, the prefect of the Congregation for Evangelisation.

Ratzinger has reportedly submitted his resignation twice, but had it rejected by the Pope. L'Espresso suggests his most likely replacement is his current deputy, Archbishop Angelo Amato. The paper does not mention Cardinal Christoph Schónborn of Vienna, the main editor of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, who has been frequently mentioned in the past as a possible successor for Cardinal Ratzinger.

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