Many have been remarking on how much frailer Benedict XVI appears in images of him meeting Pope Francis. He seems even thinner, more gaunt and much weaker than he did just less than a month ago.
This will naturally lead to speculation that the Pope Emeritus is not as well as it seems and may be suffering from a serious illness. His rapid weight loss (he shed 22 pounds over the past year) has led some to believe he is suffering from cancer.
Even before he announced his resignation Feb. 11, doctors at the Vatican — though not his own personal physician — were openly wondering if he may have some serious ailment and might only have months to live.
None of this contradicts his motives for resigning from the papacy: the reasons he gave, that he was too old and frail to effectively handle the papacy of today, still stand.
But if indeed he does have a terminal illness, it would make his move to the converted monastery in the Vatican grounds all the more rational. Once there, he will receive any urgent medical attention he needs, but what Benedict will also no doubt have taken into account is that if he only has a short time left on this earth, it would be senseless to move back to Bavaria. A cursory period spent in the Vatican is not likely to cause any problems, and even if it did, the problems are likely to be short-lived.
God willing, all this speculation is merely that, and the former Holy Father can spend a while yet in a peaceful and happy retirement.
But already given what appears to be his rapidly decreasing strength, the wisdom and prudence of his decision to retire seems even more apparent.
And were he to have carried on as Pope until death — a papal resignation is still considered almost a Church taboo — youth and vigor may well have been a priority for the cardinals in choosing Benedict’s successor. In those circumstances, 76 year-old Pope Francis may have had little or no chance of being elected.
Edward Pentin began reporting on the Vatican as a correspondent with Vatican Radio in 2002. He has covered the Pope and the Holy See for a number of publications, including Newsweek, and The Sunday Times. Read more reports from Edward Pentin — Click Here Now.
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