The pope’s state of health

Source: FSSPX News


Evening of Tuesday, February 1st. John Paul II, aged 84, was rushed in an ambulance to the Gemelli polyclinic in Rome, following complications from a bout of flu. In spite of an acute laryngotracheitis and spells of laryngospasm, he was not placed in the reanimation service, stated the Holy See’s spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who was keen to calm down the anxieties caused by the Pope’s serious state of health.

Wednesday, February 2. The Vatican seeks to reassure: "We must be calm. There is no reason for alarm today," said Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who said that the pope had been submitted to therapies to assist his breathing: "Last night, the breathing assistance therapies were carried out, which permitted the stabilization of the clinical state of the patient." "The cardio-respiratory and metabolic parameters, are, given his state, within the normal limits," he stated before specifying that the pope underwent "neither scanner, nor tracheotomy."

The director of the public relations office at the Vatican then added that "the Holy Father was followed by the medical team of Professor Rodolfo Proietti, MD, head of the emergencies department.”

John Paul II has with him his two Polish secretaries, Archbishop Stanislas Dziwisz and Bishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, as well as his personal physician, Doctor Renato Buzzonetti, also aged 84.

The rabbi of Rome, Riccardo Di Segni, expressed his preoccupation over the pope’s health. The president of the Italian republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi phoned to get news of the pope, and the mayor of the Italian capital, Walter Veltroni, went in person to the Gemelli hospital.

Cardinal Camillo Ruini, vicar general of the diocese of Rome, invited the Romans to pray for the pope. "Learning of the transfer of the pope to the Gemelli polyclinic, the diocese of Rome expresses its close affection, together with its intense and communal prayer, for its most beloved bishop," he said, that the pope "may quickly overcome his present indisposition and resume as soon as possible his full ministry as pastor of Rome and of the world." "From all the parishes, religious communities and monasteries and all the other ecclesiastical institutions will rise special prayers for the pope, from today onwards," he continued, "and to these all the people and families of Rome are invited to unite themselves, in the churches and in their own homes."

The Catholic Church in the Philippines also called its faithful – who make up the majority of the 84 millions inhabitants of the country – to pray for the prompt recovery of the pope. A similar appeal was sent by the Conference of the Columbian bishops, who were holding their assembly at the time.

Thursday, February 3. In spite of the reassuring statements by the Holy See’s spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the anxiety was real in the Vatican.

Reactions kept coming in from around the world. At the White House, the president’s spokesman, Scott McClellan, declared: "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the pope, and we wish him a speedy recovery." The British secretary of Foreign Affairs Jack Straw and his Italian counterpart Gianfranco Fini also paid homage to the pope’s contribution to world politics since the beginning of his pontificate. As for the Polish, confident in the strong health of their pope, began to pray on February 2 throughout the country for his quick recovery.

During the Holy Father’s time in hospital, Church affairs were run by two men: Cardinal Angelo Sodano, 77, the Secretary of State, and Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, 65, John Paul II’s personal secretary, whose role increased with the decline in the pope’s health.

While the TV media, equipped with trucks and parabolic antennas, took over the main entrance of the Gemelli polyclinic, the offices of the Curia carried on their daily activities. "I would say there is no reason for being particularly alarmed," stated the spokesman of the Holy See on the air waves of Radio Vatican. Joaquin Navarro-Valls affirmed that the fever of the pope had subsided.

"I bring you the pope’s greetings, he thanks you for your affection and your fervent prayers,” said Mgr. Rodé, head of the Congregation for the Institutes of Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic Life, to the faithful gathered in the Vatican basilica for the feast of the Presentation. John Paul II "is present through his prayer and sends you his blessing," he added.

Cardinal Philippe Barbarin, archbishop of Lyons, celebrated a Mass for the Pope in the evening of February 2. Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger also celebrated a Mass for the Sovereign Pontiff, in the cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris.

Leaving the hospital, Joaquin Navarro-Valls told the journalists standing before the Gemelli polyclinic that John Paul II might stay seven days in the hospital. He also declared that "the pope had a good rest during the whole night and that the laboratory tests were showing satisfactory results." "The respiratory as well as general condition of the pope have improved,” he specified, adding that the acute laryngotracheitis was now in a "regressing phase" and that the spells of laryngospasms, which had caused the emergency transfer of the pope to the hospital in the night of February 1st, were “no longer occurring."

All the official communication on the state of health of John Paul II is controlled by the spokesman of the Holy See – who has been at the service of the pope for 20 years – and by the Cardinal Secretary of State Angelo Sodano. In spite of the reassuring progress of the pope’s health, no official bulletin came from the clinic or from the physicians, contrary to the custom. This caused Joaquin Navarro-Valls to be assailed by the journalists in the entrance hall of the hospital. The pope’s spokesman was also somewhat booed by the numerous journalists who were present. However, the Italian press wanted to show itself reassuring while, like the others, it criticized the information system set up by the Vatican. Yet it did raise the question of the capacity of the pope to manage the affairs of the Church.

Mgr. Jean-Pierre Ricard, archbishop of Bordeaux, president of the French Bishops Conference, sent to Cardinal Angelo Sodano the good wishes of the Catholics of France for the pope’s health. In a short letter, he wrote that the "announcement that His Holiness Pope John Paul II had been hospitalized, incited all the Catholics of France and all their pastors to pray intensely and confidently". Mgr. Ricard, who recalled the long silent prayer of the pope before the grotto of Lourdes on August 15, 2004, asked Cardinal Sodano to tell the pope that "this prayer continues, for himself, for the return of better health, and for all those who now care for him for the sake of the Church."

The head of the Swiss Bishops Conference, Mgr. Amédée Grab, in an ad limina visit together with the Swiss bishops, hailed the example given by the pope: "We increasingly realize that numerous sick and elderly people in the world are encouraged by the fidelity and the courage of the pope." The members of the Swiss Bishops Conference were not able to meet the pope at the hospital.

Friday, February 4. "The pope’s state of health is improving," declared the spokesman of the Holy See around midday. "John Paul II is taking nourishment regularly. Examinations and medical analysis confirm the stabilization of his clinical state." Evoking the pope’s schedule for the coming days, Joaquin Navarro-Valls said: "As to the Angelus this Sunday February 6, it is clear that it is a rendez-vous very dear to the pope and which he does not want to miss."

The president of the European Parliament, Josep Borrel, addressed to pope John Paul II the wishes of the deputies through the intermediary of the Cardinal Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano. Josep Borrel was due to have been received by the pope at the Vatican this Friday. The American Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice will also have to renounce her meeting with John Paul II, scheduled for Tuesday 8. She will be received by Cardinal Sodano.

Yesterday, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders invited their communities to pray for the prompt recovery of the pope. Today, the Joint Committee of the Conference of the Churches of Europe (ecumenical) sent a message to the bishop of Rome.

The illness of the pope does not prevent him from exercising his power, believes Cardinal Francesco Pompedda, emeritus prefect of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Signatura. The condition is that he remains lucid, said the former "head of the department of justice" of the Vatican to the Italian daily Il Giornale, on this February 4.

"As long as the Sovereign Pontiff keeps his intellect and his consciousness, even a long physical illness does not prevent the exercise of the papal power. Even if the pope were unable to speak, he could still continue to fill his office," he insisted, specifying that John Paul II was not presently in such a condition. "Maybe without celebrating directly the sacraments, which demand the utterance of precise formulae," he acknowledged.

For the Italian cardinal, the pope could continue to be pope – i.e. exercise his universal jurisdiction over the Church – while expressing his will in writing or by signs. "The loss of consciousness, if it is not final and recognized as such, does not imply the end of the papal power," he insisted. According to him, John Paul II can very well continue to govern the Church from his hospital room. "On a hospital bed, the ruler also has the possibility to express his will and to give orders and take dispositions."

On the other hand, Cardinal Pompedda stated the impossibility of the pope having substitutes; his supreme powers cannot be transferred. For instance, when the pope leaves Rome on a journey, he gives some powers of ordinary administration to the cardinal carmelingo, Eduardo Martinez Somalo. But "there are powers that belong only to the pope and cannot be transferred", such as the appointment of bishops or certain dispensations of the matrimonial bond.

However, the Italian cardinal specified: "This is not the case in question," because John Paul II is very much present and aware of the authority he continues to exercise. The direct co-workers of the pope, i.e. the cardinals of the Roman Curia, exercise powers delegated by the pope and act in his name and by virtue of his authority, he added.

Saturday, February 5. Over 80 prelates from all Christian denominations were able to go to the Gemelli polyclinic in Rome to pray for John Paul II. Present in the capital of the Peninsula on the occasion of the 37th anniversary of the Italian Sant’Egidio Community – which organizes the great ecumenical meetings such as that of Assisi – these Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants prelates gathered in the chapel on the third floor of the hospital.

"John Paul II is doing better, said Bishop Vincenzo Paglia who was at the head of the delegation of prelates. Towards the middle of the day, the bishop of Terni had been authorized to enter the pope’s room alone to hand him a letter signed by the prelates – from Europe, Africa and Asia – in which they said they were praying for the health of the Sovereign Pontiff. "He was very pleased to learn "that we pray for him", added Bishop Paglia. The pope had wanted to see the signatures of the eighty-two dignitaries who signed the message. A former chaplain of the Sant’Egidio community, Mgr Vincenzo Paglia stated that the pope could speak, and make himself understood clearly, and that the quality of the tone of his voice was improving.

Sunday, February 6. John Paul II appeared at the window on the 10th floor of the Gemelli polyclinic during some ten minutes for the Angelus. The pope uttered only a few words in a feeble and hoarse voice, which was hardly audible at the end. He was unable to read his text, which was entrusted to Mgr Leonardo Sandri, substitute for the Secretary of State of the Vatican, but he did give his apostolic blessing at the end of the Marian prayer.

On the sixth day of his hospitalization, the pope appeared at the window with bent shoulders, and a tired look on his face, surrounded by some of his close collaborators. He waved silently for a long while at the crowd. Then, the substitute of the Secretary of State read the pope’s text. At the end of the prayer, John Paul II gave his apostolic blessing "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost", uttering it with great difficulty.

In his message, read by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, the pope thanked those who were caring for him at the hospital and all those who, in the whole world, were at present close to him. "Even in the hospital, in the midst of the other sick people to whom my affectionate thoughts go, I continue to serve the Church and all of mankind," stated John Paul II, before speaking of the "Day for life" celebrated that Sunday in Italy, to support the bishops of the Peninsula in "their defense of the unborn child". "We must have confidence in life," added the pope in his message, "confidence in the life claimed for silently by the unborn children", the confidence asked for by so many children who, for diverse reasons, remain without a family, so that they may find a home welcoming them through adoption or temporary placing.

In St Peter’s square, the crowd of pilgrims gathered to watch the Angelus on giant screens. A delegation of the "Italian Association for Life" was brandishing a banner and big balloons, which read in large print "Yes to life".

The spokesman of the Holy See absolutely denied the dubbing of the voice of John Paul II at the Angelus. "Of course, the words of the Holy Father at the blessing this morning were pronounced at the very instant they were heard broadcasted live," stated the director of the Public Relation Office of the Holy See, on the evening of February 6. "To state that the words broadcast at that time would have been recorded beforehand does not make any sense," he added. This explanation however did not put an end to the controversy.

Some of the media affirmed that a recording of the pope’s voice had been broadcast at the time of the blessing, because of his incapacity to speak. Indeed, after a brief interruption of the sound, which could make one think there was a technical problem, the tone of voice of John Paul II changed. Listening again to a recording of the blessing sets this difference into relief, according to the observers.

Questioned by CIPA in the middle of the afternoon, Father Federico Lombardi, program director for Radio Vatican, refused to carry the controversy any further, adding: "I deny nothing, I confirm nothing."

It must be said that after Archbishop Leonardo Sandri had read the allocution, the pope’s manservant, Angelo Gugel, hed out the microphone to John Paul II, who did not wait to give his blessing and began, in Latin : "Sit nomen Domini benedictum." His close collaborators, standing behind him, then answered : "Ex hoc nunc et usque in sæculum." Then the pope with difficulty began: "Adjutorium nostrum…", but the sound was suddenly interrupted, and after the muffled sound of a recording cut, he resumed in Italian, in a clearly different tone of voice: "Nel nome del Padre… del Fliglio e dello Spirito Santo. Grazie." Already for a while, the lips of the pope had been hidden by the paper which his young Polish secretary, Mgr Mieczyslaw Molrzycki, was holding in front of him, and thus were no longer visible.

"You have seen pictures of the pope," said the program director for Radio Vatican, "that is what everybody was waiting for." The pictures of the pope, seated behind the open window of his hospital room should have put an end to the numerous speculations of the media as to his state of health.

Monday, February 7. "The general condition of the pope continues to improve," stated the spokesman of the Holy See, late in the morning, after having met the physicians of the Sovereign Pontiff at the Gemelli polyclinic. He also specified that John Paul II "no longer had a fever", that "he was taking nourishment regularly" and that he had even "spent some hours in his armchair". The director of the Public Relation Office of the Vatican also said that "the pope concelebrated Mass everyday in his room" with his entourage, including the medical staff, attending it. The pope even glances at the newspapers, to "keep track" of "the progress of his illness", as he himself says, added Joaquin Navarro-Valls. However, "for obvious reasons of prudence, the physicians advised the pope to stay at the Gemelli polyclinic for a few more days."

An eventual resignation of John Paul II for health reasons must be left to "the pope’s conscience," said the Secretary of State, Angelo Sodano, during a press conference he gave towards the end of the afternoon in Rome. "During the 26 years of his pontificate John Paul II has left a luminous magisterium. We express the wish that this magisterium may continue for many years. Pope Pius IX, as you very well know, governed the Church for 32 years, and we hope that the present pope, John Paul II, will go beyond this limit. Leo XIII lived up to 93. So, we also pray now that the Lord grant a long life to the Holy Father, and that he grant him serenity." And he remarked: "the affection of his children and of the whole Church will be the best remedy for him."

For Cardinal Sodano, "the Lord is great and knows how to guide." "Let us leave this to the conscience of the pope who is guided by the Holy Ghost." "If, in the Church, there is a man who is guided by the Holy Ghost, if there is a man who loves the Church, it is the pope," continued the prelate. Answering more specifically to CIPA, the cardinal stressed that "the pope can express himself without speaking," he may "govern the life of the Church in different manners."

The eventuality of the resignation of a pope was brought up by John Paul II himself in the Apostolic Constitution Universi dominici gregis, published in February 1996. The pope referred to paragraph 2 of canon 332 of the Code of 1983. It reads: "if it happens that the Roman pontiff gives up his office, it is only required that the resignation be freely made and duly manifested for it to be valid, but it does not need to be accepted by anybody."

With the hypothesis of a resignation of the pope comes up the question of his successor. In mid-January, the American magazine Time, started the rumor – taken up by Henri Tincq in Le Monde of February 3 and 6 – that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, could become a "pope of transition", warranting continuity after John Paul II. According to Tincq, Cardinal Ratzinger will be the unquestioned "grand elector" of the next conclave, and if he did not become pope, "he would encourage the election of a cardinal of moderate government, capable of easing matters in the Church, while avoiding daring reforms." Two Italian cardinals correspond to these criteria: the Archbishop of Milan, Dionigi Tettamanzi (70 years old), and the Patriarch of Venice, Angelo Scola (64).

Wednesday, February 9. John Paul II participated to the Mass of Ash Wednesday in the morning in his hospital room, declared Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who also confirmed that the pope was doing better. The director of the Public Relation Office of the Vatican specified that the "the pope blessed the ashes and received them from the hand of the first concelebrant" with the words: "Convert and believe in the Gospel" of the new rite, which replace the traditional formula: "Remember man that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return."

Thursday, February 10. Joaquin Navarro-Valls announced that John Paul II was cured from his acute laryngotracheitis, and would go back to the Vatican that day, however, he could give no precision as to the length of the pope’s convalescence.