The Pope is under increasing pressure from his cardinals to step down due to illness according to a front-page article in Corriere della Sera by Vittorio Messori. He says both liberals and conservatives inside the Vatican say the 81-year-old Pope can no longer attend to his duties and should abdicate.

The Vatican has announced that the Pope will not follow the usual custom on Good Friday of doing the Stations of the Cross inside the Coliseum but will only ?preside? by sitting nearby on the papal throne. He has cancelled several engagements because of an arthritic knee.

Vatican officials insist that the Pope is mentally as sharp as ever. But on Sunday he broke with tradition by failing for the first time to celebrate Palm Sunday Mass on St. Peter?s Square. The ceremony was performed by Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the Vicar of Rome, who is a potential candidate for Pope in the future.

Many Catholics were shocked by the sight of the white-haired Pope sitting to one side with his head bowed. He knelt briefly for prayers but read his homily in a slurred and weak voice, which is one of the symptoms of Parkinson?s disease.

The last Pope to step down voluntarily was Celestine V, who had reluctantly agreed to become Pope and resigned in 1294 after only a year. His abdication was partly the result of intrigues by Cardinal Benedetto Gaetani, who succeded him as Pope Boniface VIII.

Cardinal Karl Lehmann, says that as the Pope?s illness advances, he could invoke Article 332 of Church canon law, which provides for a pontiff freely to lay down his office. Strictly speaking, this is not the same as a resignation.

Messori says, ?The Pope has no one set in authority over him to whom he can offer his resignation, at least not on this Earth.?

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