One unmistakable sign that a papacy is winding down comes when the figures that symbolize its most lacerating debates leave the stage. The next few months are likely to witness the exits of two such prelates: Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the archbishop of Milan, and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
In recent months Ratzinger, who seems increasingly fatigued, has distanced himself from day-to-day operations. He planned to allow his lieutenants to handle a meeting with Jesuit theologian Fr. Jacques Dupuis in September 2000, for example, and had to be persuaded that he could not delegate such a sensitive responsibility.
Ratzinger and Martini may or may not have written the last chapters in their extraordinary careers. There are camps in the church that would like to see both men as the next pope, and given that John XXIII was just shy of 77 when he was elected in 1958, there is still time.
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