updated 1/22/2007 11:09:28 AM ET 2007-01-22T16:09:28

The late Pope John Paul II seriously considered resigning in 2000 because of his poor health and also mulled changing church law so that popes would bow out at age 80 instead of ruling for life, his ex-secretary says in a new book.

The disclosures were contained in memoirs by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, the pope’s private secretary for nearly four decades.

In “A Life with Karol” to be released by Italy’s Rizzoli publishers on Wednesday, Dziwisz also writes he is convinced the Soviet Union was behind the 1981 assassination attempt on the Polish pope because he was a threat to its power.

Dziwisz recalled how Pope John Paul felt in the year 2000, when, with his health fading, he led the one billion-member Church into the new millennium.

‘He had to submit himself’
He says the pope called a meeting of his closest advisers, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

“He came to the conclusion that he had to submit himself to God’s will, that is, to remain (in office) as long as God wanted,” Dziwisz writes.

John Paul, the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, “asked himself ... if even the pope should resign from the post at age 80,” the same age at which cardinals are no longer allowed to enter a conclave to elect a new pontiff.

Dziwisz also disclosed that as his health declined, John Paul set up “a specific procedure to hand in his resignation in case he would not be able to carry out his ministry as pope to the end.”

The words by Dziwisz, who was like a son to the pope, were the clearest statement yet that John Paul had indeed considered resigning as Parkinson’s disease and other ailments took their toll, affecting his speech and ability to walk.

The last pope to resign willingly was Celestine V, who stepped down in 1294. Gregory XII reluctantly abdicated in 1415 when more than one pope was reigning at the same time.

‘Kremlin hated the pope’
In another part of the book Dziwisz recalls May 13, 1981, the day Turkish gunman Mehmet Ali Agca shot the pope while his open jeep was being driven through St Peter’s Square at the start of a weekly general audience.

“Agca was a perfect killer,” writes Dziwisz, who was riding in the jeep with the pope at the time. “He was sent by those who thought the pope was dangerous, inconvenient, by those who feared him ...”

Moscow has repeatedly denied any involvement in the assassination attempt.

At the time of the shooting, events in the pope’s Polish homeland were starting a domino effect which was eventually to lead to the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989.

The pope was a staunch supporter of Poland’s Solidarity union and most historians agree he played a vital role in events that led to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Allegations against the KGB
“How could one not have thought of the communist world (being behind the plot) ... you have to take into consideration all the elements of that scenario: the election of a pope hated by the Kremlin, his first trip back to his homeland (as pope in 1979), the explosion of the Solidarity union (in 1980).”

“Doesn’t everything lead in that direction? Don’t the paths, even if they are different, lead to the KGB?”

Last year, a report by an Italian parliamentary investigative commission said the leaders of the former Soviet Union were behind the plot and that Agca, a Turk now serving life in prison in his native country, did not act alone.

In a chapter called “The Last Hours,” Dziwisz recalls John Paul’s final moments of life on April 2, 2005, at the end of a 10-year battle with a host of ailments.

“It was 9:27 p.m. We noticed that the Holy Father stopped breathing ... some people stopped the hands of their watches at that hour.”

Copyright 2012 Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions.

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