The Vatican has categorically denied a report in an Italian newspaper that Pope Francis might have a small, yet curable brain tumor. But the newspaper insists that its account is true.
Vatican spokesman Reverent Federico Lombardi said a report in the daily Italian newspaper "Quotidiano Nazionale" on Wednesday saying that Pope Francis' health might be in poor condition was "completely unfounded and seriously irresponsible and not worthy of attention."
Under the headline "The pope is sick", the paper had claimed that the Argentine pontiff had been diagnosed with "a small dark spot on the brain," adding that it was curable without surgery.
Citing the supposed account of a nurse at the clinic in question, Quotidiano Nazionale announced on its front-page that 78-year-old Pope Francis had traveled by helicopter to the San Rossore di Barbaricina clinic near Pisa to see a Japanese brain cancer specialist, Dr. Takanori Fukishima, explaining that a patient file with the pontiff's real name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio, had allegedly been seen at the clinic.
Newspaper editor sticks to his account of events
The newspaper's editor, Andrea Cangini, said it stood by its story. But subsequent versions of the report said that Fukushima had instead traveled to the Vatican by helicopter in order to diagnose the pope and that he was seen returning to the Pisa clinic in the Vatican's chopper.
Cangini said the paper had deliberated a long time before publishing the news, which it said it had confirmed months ago. He added that he had anticipated the Vatican's reaction.
"This denial is understandable and to be expected," he said. "We waited a long time before publishing the report in order to carry out every possible check. We don't have the slightest doubt that it is founded."
Vatican calls report 'inexcusable'
Lombardi in the meantime said that no Japanese doctor had visited the pope, no tests of the type described in the paper had been performed on him and that no helicopters had landed in the Vatican from the outside.
"I can confirm that the pope is in good health," Lombardi said, adding that the allegations in the article were "inexcusable".
"If you were in the piazza this morning you would have seen that as well. And if you go on the trips with him, you know he has a small problem with his legs, but his head is absolutely perfect."
Fukushima did, however, indeed meet Pope Francis in October 2014, according to a post on the surgeon's Japanese blog. But the blog entry does not indicate any professional connection. Lori Radcliffe, practice administrator for Fukushima at the Carolina Neuroscience Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina, described the report as "absolutely false".
Pope maintains outlook on his health
In a television interview last March on the second anniversary of his election, Francis said he believed his pontificate would be short and he would be ready to resign like his predecessor Pope Benedict had - rather than lead the church for life. There has been no sign of his intellectual energy diminishing as he has participated in an ongoing synod of clerics which has seen his vision of how church teaching on issues such as divorce and homosexuality should evolve meet with resistance from conservatives.
The pope has appeared in good health in recent months apart from some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he was reported as undergoing regular therapy. He lost part of one lung to disease as a young man. Recent travels have taken him to Cuba and the United States, where he was welcomed by thousands of people in both cases. However, the 78-year-old has made reference in the past, sometimes light-heartedly, to an apparent belief that he only had a few years left to live.
ss/msh (Reuters, AP, AFP, epd)