Vatican City (AP) - A top Vatican cardinal said in a magazine interviewreleased Wednesday that Pope John Paul II's health has recently improved andthat talk of term limits is not relevant to the current papacy.

But Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said he would not rule out term limits in thefuture. With people living longer "one also would consider new norms," hesaid. Asked by Famiglia Cristiana (Christian Family), a leading Italianreligious affairs magazine, how the pope was feeling, Ratzinger replied,"Well. Since Christmas his physical condition has been improving."

The pope looked alert during his general audience Wednesday, as he hasduring recent public appearances, and he spoke in a clear voice. The83-year-old pontiff has Parkinson's disease and knee and hip ailments thatmake it difficult to walk or stand.

He has clearly improved since he looked tired and weak during celebrationsin October marking the 25th anniversary of his papacy.

The Vatican has never provided an explanation of the pope's changedcondition, and Ratzinger didn't offer one.

The article was set for publication later in the week.Asked whether future popes may be elected to a fixed term, he said: "Thepope is selected for life because he is a father and his paternity goesbefore his function. Perhaps in the future, with life being prolonged, onealso would consider new norms but it doesn't seem to me to be a currentissue."

John Paul has repeatedly said he has no intention of stepping down. There isa precedent: Pope Celestine V abdicated in 1294, then spent the last twoyears of his life in confinement because his successor feared he couldbecome the rallying point for a schism.

The German-born Ratzinger, considered the watchdog of Church orthodoxy ashead of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, has himself been thesubject of resignation rumors. In April he turns 77, two years beyond thenormal retirement age for Vatican office heads.

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