Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi is vigorously denying rumors that Pope Francis is suffering from a brain tumor, calling the reports “entirely unfounded” and the reporting “gravely irresponsible.”
The story began circulating in the Italian media Wednesday, after Il Quotidiano Nazionale carried a front-page article alleging that the 78-year-old pontiff had received a visit “some time ago” from Dr. Takanori Fukushima, a Japanese physician who works at the San Rossore clinic in Pisa, Italy. Further reports suggest that the doctor would have flown by helicopter to see the Pope last January.
According to the newspaper, the Argentine Pope had been diagnosed with “a small dark spot on the brain,” but that it was benign and curable without recourse to surgery.
The paper claimed the story was “based on unimpeachable sources” and related that Pope Francis “has a brain tumor.” The journal further remarked on the editor’s ethical quandary whether or not it was licit to violate the privacy of a person in this way, a scruple that the paper evidently overcame.
The response came swiftly from the Holy See’s press office.
“The circulation of entirely unfounded news regarding the health of the Holy Father by an Italian newspaper is gravely irresponsible and unworthy of attention,” chief Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said in a statement.
“Furthermore, as is clearly evident, the pope is carrying out his very intense activity in a totally normal way,” he said.
The editor of Il Quotidiano Nazionale, Andrea Cangini, continues to assert the veracity of his paper’s story.
The Vatican’s denial “is understandable and was expected,” he said. “We held this news for a long time in order to make all the necessary checks. We have not the slightest doubt as to its merits,” he said.
Pope Francis held his weekly general audience as usual Wednesday morning before tens of thousands of people gathered in St. Peter’s Square, and from there returned to the synod hall to join the bishops in discussions related to marriage and the family.
Follow Thomas D. Williams on Twitter @tdwilliamsrome