Pope may resign if health worsens, says cardinal

Pope John Paul II has not ruled out the possibility that he may have to resign if his health worsens, Honduran Cardinal Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga said.

"The pope is fully aware of his responsibility and when he realises that he can no longer go on, he will have the courage to say: 'I quit'," the archbishop of Tegucigalpa said at a press conference.

"John Paul II thinks the same thing," Maradiaga added.

The pontiff, who will be 82 on Saturday, suffers from Parkinson's disease and problems with an arthritic knee that have forced him to curtail his activities.

In his first trip outside the Vatican in seven months to the Italian island of Ischia on May 5, the pope's curved back and faltering voice revealed clear signs of the illnesses that are wracking his body.

On May 23, the pontiff is to visit Bulgaria and then head to the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

In July and August, he is scheduled to visit Canada, Guatemala, Mexico and Poland.

Maradiaga, who is considered a potential papal candidate, said a "Latin-American pope would give an huge impetus to a new evangelism, a new missionary surge for the church."

He added that a Latin-American pope could play an important role in "overcoming the north-south conflict and in the battle against poverty."