Signs of decline began to appear two years ago, leading the Pope's doctor to insist on limited air travel. Portrait of an old and weak man, who may have had little choice but resignation.
VATICAN CITY- There’s a lot of talk of intrigue and scandals since Pope Benedict XVI announced his resignation. Anything is possible, of course. But in the last few days I’ve looked back on the information I'd collected over the last few months and years on the state of the Pope’s health, gathered from those who are close to him. I had vowed to keep all the details confidential, to not reveal anything while Benedict still held his position.
His resignation announcement has freed me of these promises, and in examining my notes, a portrait appears of a man with a progressive deterioration of health and energy; a state that fully justifies the difficult decision that Benedict has taken.
A note from two years ago reads:
“The pope isn’t able to sleep at night and he refuses to take any sedatives. Because of this, he often appears tired. And those who love him insist that in the afternoons, no appointments or meetings can be organized before 5 pm, so that he is able to rest a little, especially during trips.
But, his appointments pile up quickly after lunch, at 3:30 and so on. His personal physician, Dr. Patrizio Polisca says that he can go on, if he keeps calm and manages it well, especially if he keeps his blood pressure under control. The blood pressure, at the moment, is the main problem because it was having strong fluctuations. Dr. Polisca said most of all be careful of the airplanes. He insists that he spends as little time as possible on planes, because that's where the risks come from.”
And in effect, the Pontiff expressively said that the trip scheduled July 2013 to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil for World Youth Day would not be happening.
Again, from two years ago:
“Another problem, during the trips he falls out of bed if it is too small. In Val d’Aosta, when he broke his wrist, it was because he had fallen out of the bed. When he was in Malta they prepared an incredible room for him, full of beautiful art and furniture, with a Napoleonic bed and a canopy which was incredibly beautiful, but really very narrow. He couldn’t close his eyes for the entire night because he was so scared of falling out. The following morning, during mass, he was sleeping and one of the assistants had to wake him up, touching his arm. “I didn’t close my eyes once last night,” Benedict XVI said to him offering an excuse.
Benedict’s biographer, Peter Seewald, confirmed very recently what I found out 18 months ago: “He confirmed that from one eye, his left, he has almost lost all vision in it which creates problems when there are steps, particularly when there are solemn masses when he must turn around to the altar with the incense.”
“He tires very quickly.” This is the statement so often repeated. “He has an enormous difficulty getting up in the morning; sometimes he sleeps for nine hours at a stretch because he needs to rest.”
From last summer and this past autumn: he began to “feel week and he says it now whereas before, he wouldn’t even mention it.” He uses the walking stick at home as well, because his right hip and ankle pain him.
They probably give him occasional (shots of) cortisone to help alleviate the pain. But as well as that, those who are with him during the afternoons see that he doesn’t go for walks to see the new flowers planted by the gardeners like he used to. Now, he just takes a few steps and sits on a nearby bench as if he doesn’t have the energy, or even the curiosity, to go and have a look.