a political issue for the Vatican

a political issue for the Vatican

The health of Pope Francis, like that of his predecessors, is the subject of all attention. But it has not always been so: before the pontificate of Leo XIII (1810-1903), sacred, it was subject to absolute secrecy.

Things change in the 19the and especially in the XXe century, with the rise of the “fourth estate” media. On the death of Pius XII (1876-1958), one of his personal doctors, Riccardo Galeazzi-Lisi, caused a scandal in particular by sending photos of the sovereign pontiff on his deathbed to the magazine Paris Match.

In the mid-1960s, the Vatican communicated willy-nilly about the operation, “routine among men of a certain age”which Paul VI (1897-1978) must undergo, carefully avoiding to pronounce the word “prostate”…

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Since 2020, a large part of the Vatican archives has been declassified, thus allowing the Argentine journalist and doctor Nelson Castro to consult previously unpublished testimonies. His investigation recalls that the health of the popes has often been at the heart of political issues and has always mixed the small stories with the big one.

Pius XI (1857-1939) died, for example, of a heart attack on the night of February 9 to 10, 1939, the day before a speech condemning fascism and Nazism… This combination of circumstances gave rise to a conspiracy theory that remained perennial: Mussolini would have poisoned the pope to prevent him from making his speech. Nelson Castro’s investigation nevertheless asserts that this idea rests at best on unverifiable allegations.

“Endless Agony”

The reality seems simpler: the health of popes is fragile, like that of all elderly men. From the 1990s, the world followed in particular the“endless agony” of John Paul II, hospitalized many times and suffering from Parkinson’s disease. This period would also have marked Cardinal Ratzinger, the future Benedict XVI (1927-2022) and first pope in modern times to resign for health reasons.

The book ends with an interview with the current pope, who is said to have suggested to Nelson Castro the idea of ​​writing this book. In this interview, which does not add much, François lists his health problems and the operations he has undergone, with a real concern for transparency, but without providing any major information or analysis.

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More generally, if Nelson Castro’s investigation offers a good summary of the subject, it does not bring many revelations. In addition, his book regularly deviates from the history of the health of the popes to devote long sections to the biography of the sovereign pontiffs, to their reign, to their entourage or to their political positions. These passages, which represent at least a third of the book, are generally content to summarize what could already be found in good encyclopedias. The result is certainly erudite and well written, ideal for reviewing the subject. But it remains difficult to get rid of an impression of filling.

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