One of Europe’s leading cardinals has said Pope John Paul II is dying.
The archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, told Austrian state radio: “The entire world is experiencing a pope who is sick, who is disabled and who is dying – I don’t know how near death he is – who is approaching the last days and months of his life.”
Cardinal Schoenborn is the highest-ranking churchman to publicly say the 83-year-old pontiff is nearing the end of his life.
His remarks come amid heightened concern over the pope’s health, which has declined in recent months.
The archbishop’s spokesman, Erich Leitenberger, said his words were “to be interpreted philosophically”.
The Vatican has not responded to the comments.
Cardinal Schoenborn’s comments follow remarks reportedly made last week by a senior aide to the Pope, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who told a visiting German delegation that John Paul was “in a bad way”.
The Pope’s secretary, Monsignor Stanislaw Dziwisz, said the quote, which appeared the in German magazine Bunte, was taken out of context.
“Many journalists who in the past have written about the Pope’s health are already in heaven,” he said.
Concerns mounted when ill-health forced the Pope to cancel his weekly general audience last Wednesday, one of only a few occasions he has done so during his 25-year papacy.
Vatican officials said the Pope was suffering from intestinal problems and the ailment was not serious.
‘Relaxed and alert’
On Thursday, the Pope met Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas for 15 minutes.
He reportedly looked relaxed and alert during the meeting, one of four appointments in his agenda for the day.
He also appeared at his weekly audience the day before, appearing alert and in good spirits.
The Pope has a busy schedule for October, when he is due to mark the 25th anniversary of his election on 16 October, 1978, followed by the beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta on 19 October.