Catholic Culture News
Catholic Culture News

The Pope's aching joints; the Vatican's odd silence

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Nov 09, 2011

Today CWN passes along the report that Pope Benedict suffers from a degenerative joint condition in his legs. Although I am sorry for his suffering, I must say that I’m relieved. The news might have been much worse.

But if the report is accurate—and the journalist who made the “scoop,” Andrea Tornielli, has rarely been wrong—I wonder why the Vatican did not make a full disclosure.

In October, the news that the Pope was towed into St. Peter’s basilica on a rolling platform was alarming. The memories of Blessed John Paul II riding the same platform were still too vivid. It was only natural to ask: Was Pope Benedict now entering his own final decline?

The official announcement from the Vatican press office, saying that the platform was introduced “to alleviate the efforts of the Holy Father,” was not at all reassuring. Such vague words do not quell suspicions. Why did the Pope suddenly need such assistance? We remember how the Vatican press office refused to confirm that John Paul II had Parkinson’s disease, even long after the symptoms became obvious to casual observers. So we worried: Were Vatican officials again covering up some serious papal illness?

A degenerative joint condition can be quite painful. But it is not a life-threatening condition. Nor is there any shame involved. We all know that age is taking its toll on the Pope’s physical condition, and aching joints are a common complaint among men of his years. There is abundant evidence that the Holy Father can no longer walk without difficulty. Eyewitnesses notice that his stride is labored; his right leg seems gimpy. In past years he vacationed in the Italian Alps, where he could take long walks; this year he opted instead for a few quiet weeks at Castel Gandolfo, where he could relax, play the piano, and stay off his feet. 

So why not tell the whole truth? If the Vatican announced tomorrow that Pope Benedict suffered from arthrosis, no one would be scandalized, no one would be frightened, no one would even be surprised. Many people, I feel certain, would be relieved. Many more—including the millions who have suffered with their own aching joints—would be prompted to offer another quick prayer for the Holy Father.

And the down side would be….The down side would be….Could someone help me out here? I can’t see the down side.


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: AgnesDay - Nov. 10, 2011 5:36 PM ET USA

    The down side, of course, is that the Pope's condition would not be inside knowledge controlled by a privileged few. This, of course, only affects the priveleged few, but it is they who control the news.

  • Posted by: koinonia - Nov. 10, 2011 7:32 AM ET USA

    Nonetheless, one must understand that for a man his age death ought not be something feared or surprising. The Holy Father is vulnerable to any communicable illness that in young people might prove a nuisance, but in the elderly can prove debilitating or fatal. Why should an elderly person or loved one be afraid that something serious might be wrong? Fear ought not be part of the equation. We Catholics ought not hide from the truth; we should pray for the pope and for the future of the Church.