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Pope Francis says intestinal problems have ‘returned’ but insists, ‘I’m in good health’

January 25, 2023 Catholic News Agency 2
Pope Francis, seated in a wheelchair, greets a child during the pope’s general audience at the Vatican on Jan. 25, 2023. / Vatican Media

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, Jan 25, 2023 / 08:30 am (CNA).

Pope Francis has revealed a recurrence of the intestinal ailment that has plagued him in recent years while also professing to be in good health for his age.

He also indicated he has no plans to resign, although if he were to step down he reiterated that he would want to be called “bishop emeritus of Rome,” rather than “pope emeritus,” the title given his predecessor, Benedict XVI.

In a wide-ranging interview with the Associated Press published Wednesday that also included pointed remarks about homosexuality, the pope disclosed that diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned.”

At the same time, however, the 86-year-old pontiff — who is preparing to embark on a pilgrimage to South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo next week — insisted he was in relatively good condition.

“I’m in good health. For my age, I’m normal,” he told the AP on Jan. 24.

Pope Francis arrived at Paul VI Hall using a cane to walk on Jan. 18, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA
Pope Francis arrived at Paul VI Hall using a cane to walk on Jan. 18, 2023. Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Rumors of Francis’ possible resignation, and speculation that his health problems are more serious than the Vatican has acknowledged, have swirled since he underwent surgery in 2021 to have 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine removed for what the Vatican said was inflammation of his colon.

A slight fracture in his knee Francis suffered in a fall also has made it visibly painful for him to walk, making it necessary for him to rely on a cane and a wheelchair. But Francis told the AP that the fracture had healed without surgery after laser and magnet therapy.

Speaking about papal retirements, Francis dismissed speculation that he is preparing to issue norms for how future papal abdications will be handled.

“I’m telling you the truth,” he said, adding that it was premature to “regularize or regulate” papal retirements because the Vatican had too little experience upon which to draw. Benedict XVI, who died Dec. 31, 2022, after nearly a decade of retirement, was the first pope to step down in nearly 600 years.

Francis hasn’t ruled out retiring, and he repeated Tuesday that if he did so he would be called the bishop emeritus of Rome and would live in the residence for retired priests in the Diocese of Rome.

Benedict’s decision to live in a converted monastery in the Vatican Gardens was a “good intermediate solution,” he told the AP, but future retired popes might want to choose a different course.

“He was still ‘enslaved’ as a pope, no?” Francis said. “Of the vision of a pope, of a system. ‘Slave’ in the good sense of the word: in that he wasn’t completely free, as he would have liked to have returned to his Germany and continued studying theology.”


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Pope Francis: Resignation already signed ‘in case of medical impediment’

December 17, 2022 Catholic News Agency 6
Pope Francis on Nov. 30, 2022, during the weekly general audience at St. Peter’s Square in The Vatican. / Daniel Ibáñez

Bogotá, Colombia, Dec 17, 2022 / 20:45 pm (CNA).

Pope Francis said that in case of not being able to continue governing the Catholic Church due to an impediment to his health, he has already signed his resignation and has given it to one of the Vatican cardinals.

During an interview given to the Spanish newspaper ABC and published early Sunday morning in Spain, the Holy Father responded to the question of what would happen “if a pontiff is suddenly disabled due to health problems or an accident.”

“I have already signed my resignation,” Pope Francis replied, adding that he did so when the Vatican Secretary of State was Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

“I signed it and told him: ‘In case of impediment for medical reasons or whatever it may be, here is my resignation.’ They already have it. I don’t know who Cardinal Bertone gave it to, but I gave it to him when he was Secretary of State,” he said.

Cardinal Bertone was appointed Secretary of State by Benedict XVI in 2006 and continued in office until Aug. 31, 2013, during the pontificate of Pope Francis.

When asked if he wanted this to become known, Francis replied “that’s why I’m saying it.” 

“Now someone will go to ask Bertone for it: ‘Give me that piece of paper!’” the pope said, laughing. “He probably handed it over to Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the new Secretary of State. I gave it to Bertone as he was the Secretary of State,” he said.

During the interview, Francis said that he hasn’t delved “at all” into a statute to specify the definition of pope emeritus. 

“I didn’t even have the idea of doing it. It must be that the Holy Spirit has no interest in me being concerned about those things,” he said.

This story was first published by ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner. It has been translated and adapted by CNA.


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Head doctor for Madrid soccer team calls Pope Francis a ‘very stubborn patient’

November 23, 2022 Catholic News Agency 1
Pope Francis in St. Peter’s Square, Sept. 28, 2022 / Pablo Esparza / CNA

Rome Newsroom, Nov 23, 2022 / 07:34 am (CNA).

The Vatican has recruited the head doctor of a Madrid soccer team among a team of specialists to help treat Pope Francis’ knee problem.

José María Villalón, a sports medicine specialist and the head doctor of the Atlético de Madrid soccer team, described the pope as a “very stubborn patient” in a radio interview this week.

The doctor said that Pope Francis is “a very nice and very stubborn patient in the sense that there are surgical procedures that he does not want. We have to offer him more conservative treatments so that he will agree to them.”

Speaking in an interview with COPE, the Spanish bishops’ conference radio station, on November 20, Villalón said that the pope’s issue with his knee had affected some of his other joints as well.

“Sometimes it starts with a joint with osteoarthritis and other joints deteriorate because they are overloaded,” he said. “We are trying to make sure that this does not advance and that things get better.”

Villalón said that he was contacted by both the Apostolic Nunciature in Spain and the Spanish bishops’ conference, who “asked a group of specialists if we could help the pope.”

Pope Francis, who turns 86 next month, has alternated between using a wheelchair and a walking cane since May. 

Earlier this month, the pope told journalists that he was in “a lot of pain” on a flight to Bahrain. Pope Francis has previously canceled public appearances and trips due to his knee trouble, including a scheduled trip to Africa in July.

Villalón said that at first he was “nervous” during his first communication with the pope, but that they bonded because “he likes soccer.” 

In particular, the pope expressed his fondness for Atlético de Madrid’s striker, Ángel Correa, an Argentine soccer player who used to play for the San Lorenzo soccer club in Buenos Aires.

Correa recently joined Argentina’s national soccer team at the FIFA World Cup in Qatar, where Argentina suffered a shocking defeat in a game against Saudi Arabia on Nov. 22.