All the ingredients are there. The simultaneity of the Synod on family, the attacks on the Church, internal struggles, the historic moment in the debate on the subject of gay rights accompanied by the coming out of a monsignor. It may well sound look like the summary of a Dan Browns’ novel about Vatican’s secrets, excepts it is all real.
The mystery story on the Pope’s disease, which yesterday led the field on all the international media after the announcement made by the Italian newspaper Quotidiano Nazionale about the Pontiff’s brain tumor, actually has many implications which go far beyond the presumed pathology.
The Synod has already shown a variety of points of view within the Church which split in two – if not precisely opposite, at least deeply distant – fronts: the progressives who insist on opening up to separated couples, in favour of giving communion to the divorced and of an increasingly open dialog with the gay community, and traditionalists who deny any opening that goes beyond the directions of the doctrine.
Last, but not least, there is the statement Pope Francis pronounced last weekend, about the need to review the primacy of the Pope who “is not above the Church”. These revolutionary words the Pope Francis pronounced in the Paul VI Hall on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the synod of bishops, who run the risk – according to some people – to reduce the Holy Roman Church to a mere patriarchate.
After the coming out of mons. Charamsa, the consecrated Host broken by a girl to give it to her separated parents, and the letter of the 13 cardinals which contained criticisms towards the Synod, here comes the last destabilizing “bomb” put at the Pope’s feet: the news published by Quotidiano Nazionale about the alleged brain tumor (defined as “small, in a benign form and treatable without surgical intervention”).
A small “dark spot”, which according to the QN‘s reconstruction, was diagnosed to the Pope by a Japanese luminary, the neurosurgeon Takanori Fukushima, one of the consultants of the Pisan clinic ‘‘San Rossore’’. “The spreading of this totally groundless news about the health of the Holy Father by a component of the Italian press is grossly irresponsible and unworthy of attention – said the Vatican spokesperson, Father Federico Lombardi -. Besides, as everyone can see, the Pope keeps carrying on his intense activity with no interruption, in an absolutely regular manner”. In fact, the Pontiff, who held the general audience in the midst of 30 thousand people in Piazza San Pietro, gave a hearing to the metropolitan Hilarion, the representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, and appointed three bishops in Brazil, did not find (or did not want to find) the occasion to emphasize his state of health. Moreover, perhaps he unwittingly helped to create tension when he recalled the liturgical memorial of Saint John Paul II and made reference to “carrying one’s cross of suffering with joy”, a message which was seen by many people as a confirmation of his illness.
The latter was confirmed also by QN‘s director, Andrea Cangini, who despite the denials continued to keep the point and to confirm that the news about the Pope’s health was verified ‘via different sources, all of them with direct access’ to the story, pointing out that they do not have ‘the slightest doubt’ about what was written and excluding any intention to hold a ‘campaign’ against Bergoglio.
With subsequent statement, in a press room crowded with representatives of the international press, Lombardi replied again: “I totally confirm the denial I have already expressed. I do so after verifications with the due sources, including the Holy Father. No Japanese doctor came to the Vatican to visit the Pope and none of the examinations indicated in the article was done”. The spokesman of the Holy See remarked also that “the relevant offices have confirmed me that no helicopter flights arrived to the Vatican from outside in the month of January”, contrary to the news which were circulating about the Japanese doctor who flew to the Vatican on a helicopter from San Rossore. “I can confirm that the Pope is in good health – has declared Lombardi again – I repeat that the publication is a serious act of irresponsibility, absolutely unjustifiable and indescribable. And it is unjustifiable also to continue to feed such unfounded information”.
For the German Cardinal Walter Kasper, interviewed by the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera , it is “an awkward attempt to condition the work of the Synod. As it happened last days with the publication of a private letter sent to the Pope by 13 cardinals, on which emerged many doubts. Now the alarm sets off because of Pope Francis’ health. But the Holy Father, and the synod fathers, will not be influenced by anyone”. The cardinal has confirmed that, according to him, the Holy Father” is fine. He keeps working every day. He never stops. He is never idle. He gets up at dawn and goes to sleep late at night. He meets heads of State, sovereigns, premiers, and institutional representatives every day, but above all, he meets ordinary people during the general audience, where he always holds interesting catechizes. He is almost 79 years, perhaps he should perhaps he should pay a bit more attention. At this age can appear some ailment. But it is virtually impossible to force him to stop”.
Monsignor Victor Manuel Fernandez, interviewed by Repubblica, was harsher. “It looks like some sort of ‘apocalyptic’ strategy, present also in the Holy Scripture and therefore used by many people since ancient times – he said -. It consists in discrediting the one who have power, bad-mouthing him, spreading incredibly false news about him, so as to push more people to think that a replacement is absolutely needed, to change, in short, to weaken the person who is being defamed, at the end of his parable, so as not to allow him to move forward anymore. But this game is well-known, and for this reason I do not think that Francis will be impressed by it”. The news about the brain tumor ‘‘was spread with bad intentions, because to talk about someone that way indicates the clear desire to destabilize him”, said Fernandez, according to whom “it is not easy to find out” who acted in this way. “I believe there are people who are not particularly fond of this pontificate. Just think about the recent success of the Pope’s apostolic visit to Cuba and to the United States. Perhaps this success was troublesome. Perhaps this success bothered someone. And this someone, cannot but try to weaken the role of the Pope”. The mystery story about the possibility of an occult instigator remains with no solution.
In the meantime, Fukushima removed from his blog (http://dr-fukushima.com) the two posts about his missions to the Vatican in October 2014 and January 2015. In the first there were also two photos, retouched, of a meeting with the Pope. Is still on the blog, however, another post which dates back to February 2014 in which Fukushima says he received an award in 2010 by the former Pope Benedict XVI for his achievements in having “operated several prelates”: it is a parchment with an image of the Pope and the Pontiff’s “apostolic blessing”.
The news sparked reactions on Twitter, like those of the deputy Secretary of State Msgr. Angelo Becciu (“I met the Pope last night. He’s very well and in good health! What is’ is uproar about his health?”) And the Director of Catholic Civilization Father Antonio Spadaro (“I no longer know what to say … I am tired of it. After all the lies they come up even with illnesses! A ‘good sign’”).
To close the case, there is declaration of Fukushima’s studio administrator at the Carolina Neuroscience Institute, Lori Radcliffe, who claims that the Japanese doctor (whose blog tells about his two trips to the Vatican in October 2014, when he shook hands with the Pope in St. Peter’s Square, and last January for meetings and donations) did not “cure nor visit” the Pope and that the news is “absolutely false”.
In the end, thinking about the struggles inside the Synod, the pressure of the lobbies from the outside, the Pope’s growing political weight in the international scenario, there is only one question left to answer: cui prodest?