The Vatican denies reports that Pope Francis has a brain tumor

The TV in the coffee shop in Buenos Aires that I’m working in today is cycling through a few top stories: Argentina just beat Ireland in the Rugby World Cup, Election Day is fast approaching here and Pope Francis may or may not have a small, curable brain tumor.

Wait, what?

From USA Today:

In a report citing unnamed sources on its front page Wednesday, the Quotidiano Nazionale said the 78-year-old pontiff traveled to the San Rossore di Barbaricina clinic near Pisa in Tuscany to see a Japanese doctor named Takanori Fukushima “some time ago,” who determined a small dark spot on the pope’s brain could be cured without surgery.

The article was largely based on the account of a nurse at the clinic who reportedly saw medical notes under Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the pontiff’s real name, Agence France-Presse said.

The Vatican is vigorously pushing back against the report, insisting that the Pope is in perfect health and calling Quotidiano Nazionale‘s report “totally unfounded,” adding that it was “seriously irresponsible and not worthy of attention.”

“As all can see, the pope continues to exercise his intense activity without interruption and in an absolutely normal way,” Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a statement.

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

Pope Francis addresses Congress, screenshot via YouTube

Quotidiano Nazionale, however, is standing by their report. As editor Andrea Cangini responded, “This denial is understandable and to be expected. 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.”

It’s unclear as to why the Vatican would feel compelled to lie about the Pope’s health, as Cangini is essentially accusing them of doing. If the Pope does in fact have a brain tumor, but that tumor is perfectly treatable, what’s the fuss about? Pope Francis is 78 years old; it isn’t unreasonable or unexpected for him to have health problems. What’s more, a relatively minor medical condition and the ability to “exercise his intense activity without interruption and in an absolutely normal way” are not necessarily mutually exclusive. If his consultation with Dr. Fukushima took place “some time ago,” as in, “before his trip to the United States,” it would appear that Pope Francis is fully functional either way.

The story is getting lots of airtime here given that Pope Francis is a native Argentinian — I recently stumbled on the church he used to preside over while walking around my new neighborhood. While the country obviously has its fair share of national pride over the fact that the Vicar of Christ on Earth hails from their country, his time spent as the head of the Jesuit order during Argentina’s military dictatorship during the 1970s continues to be the subject of much scrutiny. From The Guardian:

Bergoglio twice refused to testify in court about his role as head of the Jesuit order. When he eventually appeared in front of a judge in 2010, he was accused by lawyers of being evasive.

The main charge against Bergoglio involves the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests, Orland Yorio and Francisco Jalics, who were taken by Navy officers in May 1976 and held under inhumane conditions for the missionary work they conducted in the country’s slums, a politically risky activity at the time.

His chief accuser is journalist Horacio Verbitsky, the author of a book on the church called “El Silencio” (“The Silence”), which claims that Bergoglio withdrew his order’s protection from the two priests, effectively giving the military a green light for their abduction.

In any case, it appears as though Pope Francis will be fine one way or the other, although I’m sure I’ll hear more about this story in the coming days.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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