BY VD/LANE HEWITT IN ROME
CARDINAL JOSEPH RATZINC;ER
has confirmed his intention to retire early from his post as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The longest serving Curia cardinal who is now fulfilling his third five year mandate as the spokesman for orthodoxy, Ratzinger said he was planning to retire in November 1996, the 15th anniversary of his Vatican service under Pope John Paul II.
He said he would probably not return to his native Bavaria but would remain in Rome in his capacity as theologian. He stressed he would always be at the Pope's disposition as "consultant".
Cardinal Ratzinger, who will be 69 on his anniversary as Prefect in 1996 and so six years short of the age limit of 75 for active Curia service, has always said that he wished to retire early.
In addition, he suffered what was described as a mild stroke over a year ago.
On the expiry of this second mandate at the congregation in 1991, Pope John Paul is known to have asked him to stay on for a further five years.
Under Cardinal Ratzinger's guidance, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the faith has clarified several of Catholicism's thorniest issues, including the Church's position on Freemasonry, on controversial currents in theology like Latin America's Marxist-inspired Liberation Theology and, latterly, on the question of national catechisms veering too far from orthodoxy. This culminated in the publication of the definitive Universal Catechism of the Catholic Church.
It was also Cardinal Raminger who liaised with the late traditionalist Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre in 1988 in vain attempts to prevent schism.
While a key figure in this Pontificate, the Cardinal has also engaged in what appeared to be veiled criticism of John Paul II's attitude to beatifications.
When asked to comment on the Pope's record number of beatifications, Cardinal Ratzinger once said he felt the Church's altar was "overcrowded".