BY BRUCE JOHNSTON
Two OF THE most influential figures of the Catholic Church this week announced their retirements.
Cardinals Joseph Ratzinger, the Pope's doctrinal chief, and Carlo Maria Martini, the Jesuit Archbishop of Milan, both intend to stand down office next year.
Cardinal Ratzinger, prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, which some critics of the Church have dubbed "The Inquisition" said in a pastoral letter that he planned to retire next year when he turns 75 years.
He said that he found age and fatigue were hampering his duties.
Cardinal Martini, who for years has been feted as a potential liberal contender in the papal succession, announced last Saturday that he was planning to retire to Jerusalem next year on turning 75 next February to devote himself to prayer and study.
In his final pastoral letter, Cardinal Martini, a prolific biblical scholar who was formerly head of the European Bishops' Conference, admitted that he felt he should have done more to attack corruption in his city.
But he said that he had underestimated how far its tentacles had spread into the fabric of its society.
He also said that he felt that his connection with Jerusalem, which he once called the city where all history found its meaning, was bound up in his own destiny.
Referring to his retirement in his pastoral letter for 20012002, Cardinal Martini said "this is not just a formal act, but something useful to give impetus and an opening to new persons.
"I do not keep secret my desire, expressed to the Pope, to retire to Jerusalem to dedicate myself to prayer and the study of codes and manuscripts."
He has most recently came under fire in conservative Church circles for his support for calls from some Church figures who felt that it was now time for a Third Vatican Council.
He made the appeal, he said, because of the need to iron out problems within the Church, beginning with the need for greater collegiality, In an interview, Cardinal Ratzinger said that he could "not wait to write books again".
Already a prolific writer, the grinning, white-haired prelate said: "I'm getting there but getting there is not enough."
After 12 years of being archbishop, he said he also wanted to make way for "new faces". Under Canon Law, it is required Church procedure for any bishop to write to the Pope officially resigning from all posts upon reaching the age of 75 years.
In practice, the Pope tends to reject the resignations of his most valued prelates, and he will be unlikely to want to give up Cardinal Ratzinger.
The Church is even considering raising the retirement age for bishops to at least 78 years.
Italy's respected Corriere della Sera newspaper said that John Paul II was not keen on losing the Cardinal's valued services, despite the fact that the latter had complained that his life had become "very hard".
Under current rules, until he is 80, the cardinal, who is viewed as the likely kingmaker in the next papal race, may vote in a conclave to choose a new pope.
Either he or Cardinal Martini could be elected pope even after retirement.
But Vatican watchers always felt that Cardinal Martini had too many enemies in the College of Cardinals to ever be able to become Pope.
However, a recent re-writing by the present pontiff of the regulations governing conclaves, meant that a successful liberal candidate could now become a reality.
Cardinal Martini was rector of both the Pontifical Biblical Institute and the Pontifical Gregorian University.