Allegations in the National Daily newspaper that Pope Francis has a brain tumor have been denied by the Vatican. The report quoted unnamed sources as saying the Pontiff saw a brain cancer specialist near Pisa recently and that a small dark spot on his brain had been found and deemed to be treatable without surgery. Specifically, it stated that he traveled by helicopter to the San Rossore di Barbaricini clinic, where he was examined by Dr. Takanori Fukishima.
The Vatican spokesman, Rev. Federico Lombardi, called the Wednesday report “completely unfounded and seriously irresponsible and not worthy of attention.” But he didn’t respond to a question regarding whether Fukushima had examined Francis anywhere.
Subsequent versions of the report said the doctor had been flown to see the Pope and later was seen returning to Pisa via the Vatican’s helicopter. The clinic’s director has made no comment on the matter.
Andrea Cangini, National Daily’s editor, stands by the story. He said the staff thought long and hard about whether to make the information public.
The revelation, if true, comes at a particularly delicate time for Pope Francis. He’s still involved in the Church’s synod on the family, which has revealed a serious disagreement between conservative and liberal bishops over Catholic teachings on marriage, sex, homosexuality and other issues.
There is hope among some that the church’s teachings can somehow be repackaged in new language to make them more convincing. But a new language could also mean updating theology, along with the implementation of new approaches to old problems.
Several conservative bishops and cardinals have complained that this Synod of Bishops is creating confusion and “anxiety”. The Pope has found them to be afraid of new ideas and unwilling to consult with theological experts who could show them other options. Some have gone so far as to challenge his organization of the synod, and a few have even referred to him as a Protestant and threatened a fractured church if he goes against their wishes.
Some progressives still hope that Francis can somehow magically pull things together, but, at the moment, he appears to be conflicted. His instincts tell him to mold the church more in the image of the pastoral role he has always played. But he also understands the need not to alienate those below him in the structure of the Church.