The personal secretary to Pope emeritus Benedict XVI has said that his health was ‘slowly, serenely fading’ – claims which the Vatican was keen to temper.
In an interview published on Thursday, March 24, 2016 in Italian magazine BenEssere, personal secretary Georg Gänswein said the former pope was “an old man, of course, but very lucid. Unfortunately, it’s become difficult for him to walk and he needs to use a walking frame.”
Benedict XVI, whose real name is Joseph Ratzinger, will turn 89 in April. “He’s like a candle which is slowly, serenely fading. He is serene, at peace with God, himself and the world,” said Gänswein.
“He is interested in everything and still has his refined, subtle sense of humour. He still loves cats. Contessa and Zorro, two cats that live in our gardens, come often to say hello to the pope emeritus,” he added.
Benedict XVI served as pope between 2005 and 2013, when he became the first head of the Catholic Church to resign in seven centuries, amid speculation he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, unable to cope at the top of an institution beset by scandals.
He said he no longer had the strength of mind or body to carry on, but his health appeared to improve after he stepped down and moved into a former convent in the grounds of the Vatican.
Concern had also been raised late last year about the health of the current Pope Francis, after he tripped in public last November.
The 78-year-old pontiff had to be helped up the steps to an alter at a basilica in Rome by two church officials, two days after falling on the steps of St Peter’s Basilica and being forced to throw his arms out in front of him.
The Vatican was forced to dismiss an Italian newspaper report last October year that the Pope was suffering from a benign brain tumour, insisting he was in good health.
He is also known to suffer some leg pain due to sciatica, for which he undergoes regular therapy.
Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said on Thursday that the Benedict’s condition didn’t raise ‘any particular concerns’ for a man in his late eighties.
Lombardi added: “Of course it is part of the effects of old age and a gradual, growing fragility of the physical condition as with any elderly person.” But he stressed that Benedict’s mind is “perfectly lucid.”
While Benedict no longer writes books, the former pope known for his fine theological mind still dictates letters.
“He lives the life of a monk, but is by no means isolated: he prays, reads, listens to music, receives guests, plays the piano,” said Gänswein, who lives with Benedict and has revealed he plays Mozart on the piano from memory.
Pope Francis, 79, who was elected shortly after Benedict resigned, has said of the unusual situation of having two popes living so close to each other: “It is like having a grandfather – a wise grandfather – living at home.”
Gänswein, who still plays an active role in the Vatican and works for Francis as prefect of the papal household, said the current and former pontiffs were “very different in terms of character, personalities and way of communicating.”
Francis “seeks direct contact, even physical contact,” while Benedict “is more reserved. He caresses with words, rather than hugs.”