Ailing Pope should retire: Canadian poll

MONTREAL - A majority of Canadians believe the Pope, 82, is too old and should retire, according to an opinion poll.

The survey indicated 55% of respondents agreed that Pope John Paul II -- who is due to attend World Youth Day in Toronto next month -- is too old to occupy his position and should retire. Another 29% disagreed, while 16% were undecided or refused to reply.

Support for retirement was even stronger among Roman Catholics, with six out of 10 believing the Pope should go, says the Leger Marketing survey.

A third rejected the suggestion while the rest were either undecided or did not answer.

Protestants and Lutherans agreed with Catholic followers, while only about half of those with other religious affiliations and atheists said the Pope should be replaced.

A spokesman for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said the poll shows that Canadians have a lot of sympathy for a man ravaged by the physical effects of Parkinson's disease.

"Our Church is a huge Church and I would think it's a relatively normal aspect of people looking at an older person struggling," said Monsignor Peter Schonenbach, general-secretary of the conference.

"His appeal right now as an older, frail man trying to do his job seems to resonate a great deal with the young people," he added.

The survey of 1,503 Canadian adults was conducted May 22-26. The margin of error is 2.6%, 19 times out of 20.

Retired Canadians were more likely to support retirement than younger adults, the survey said.

The margin of error is larger, however, when the results are broken down by age or denomination.

The poll also suggested 72% of Canadians -- and 74% of Catholics -- agreed the Church's doctrine against abortion, contraception and marriage of priests is dated and out of sync with the times.

Msgr. Schonenbach said he suspects the results wouldn't be nearly as high if abortion was singled out.

"A lot of the things that the Church is doing are somewhat counterculture," Msgr. Schonenbach added.

But the organizer for the Pope's World Youth Day visit to Toronto July 23-29 denounced the poll.

"We have a Pole leading us, but it's a different kind of poll," said Rev. Thomas Rosica.

"The Catholic Church is not a smorgasbord buffet of teachings. It is the story of a person whose life continues to inspire all of us and that person is Jesus Christ."

The Pope's health won't prevent him from attending the Toronto event, which is expected to attract more than 350,000 registered delegates, said Rev. Rosica. But it is uncertain whether the Pope will make any or all of the other trips planned for him this year.

"Toronto is clear. For the others, we shall see," Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said after the Pope returned from a trying five-day trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria. "No decision has been made yet. Everything that has been confirmed is confirmed."

But he added: "Something that has been confirmed can be unconfirmed."

Organizers in Toronto are working to ensure the Pope will barely need to take a step from the moment he arrives July 25 to visit one of the largest events of its kind ever in Canada.

His accommodations will have no stairs of any kind, stages will be outfitted with hydraulic lifts and public appearances will take place behind the bulletproof glass dome aboard the specially outfitted Popemobile that went into service after a failed assassination attempt 21 years ago.

"He definitely will not be able to walk, which is why we have to put elevators in our stages and keep the distances that he ever has to walk to an absolute minimum," said Paul Kilbertus, director of communications for the World Youth Day in Toronto.

The Pope is scheduled to travel to Guatemala and Mexico before returning for a visit to his homeland in Poland. Throughout his 24-year papacy, the only trips postponed because of John Paul's health were a 1994 visit to New York after the pontiff broke his leg and a trip to Armenia in 1999 because he had the flu.

The lack of scheduled events after these visits has prompted some to speculate he will retire.

While Rev. Rosica said the Pope could resign, he doubts it would happen because "the body is slow, the mind is very clear and the heart is still on fire and I would be very surprised."

Six popes have resigned, but none has done so for reasons of health or age. Pope Gregory XII was the last to resign in 1415 in an attempt to end the Great Western Schism.