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VATICAN CITY (AP) _ A cardinal who is considered a possible candidate to be the next pontiff said Thursday that he thought Pope John Paul II ``would have the courage'' to resign if poor health left him unable to carry out his ministry.

While in Rome to receive an honorary degree from a pontifical university, Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras was asked by journalists what the pope should do if his increasingly frail health leaves him unable to govern the Church.

The cardinal replied that he thought that if the pope realizes ``he cannot continue to carry out his ministry for health reasons, he would have the courage to resign.''

Only a day earlier, the pope, during his weekly public audience, made clear he has no intention of stepping down.

The pope, who suffers from the symptoms of Parkinson's disease and knee and hip ailments, turns 82 on Saturday. He told the audience Wednesday: ``I count on your spiritual support to continue faithfully in the ministry that the Lord entrusted to me.''

The Vatican said it had no comment on the cardinal's remarks.

Vatican officials have frequently said that John Paul, now in the 24th year of his papacy, is not considering resignation. Church law allows a pope to resign but there is no provision to force him from office.

The 59-year-old charismatic, well-spoken Rodriguez Maradiaga is seen by many as one of the potential candidates in the next election for pope.

Rodriguez Maradiaga is not the first high-ranking prelate to say he thought the pope might resign if he couldn't do his job.

Two years ago, a top German bishop, Karl Lehmann, said he believed the pope would step down if he thought he could no longer lead the church. The pope later raised the bishop to cardinal's rank.

And one of Europe's most influential cardinals, Belgium's Godfried Danneels, has called for debate on limiting the term of the papacy. He has said he ``wouldn't be surprised'' if the pope eventually retired.