VATICAN CITY — After rumors spread in German media that Benedict XVI has a paralyzing nerve disease, the Vatican debunked the story, saying the retired pope is experiencing nothing more than the normal aches and pains of aging.
“The recent news of a paralyzing or degenerative illness are false,” the Vatican said Feb. 15.
The statement was in response to a story published in the German tabloid Neue Post Feb. 14, which quoted Benedict’s older brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, as saying that the pope emeritus had a degenerative nerve disease that left him increasingly in need of a wheelchair.
Benedict XVI recently sent a letter to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera saying he is in the last phase of his life and that, while his physical strength might be waning, he is surrounded by love and consolation.
“I can only say that at the end of a slow decline in physical strength, inwardly I am on pilgrimage home,” he said in the letter, published Feb. 7 on the front page of Corriere.
He said that “it’s a great grace for me to be to be surrounded in this last piece of the road, which is at times a bit tiring, by a love and goodness that I could never have imagined.”
Benedict addressed the letter to Italian journalist Massimo Franco of Corriere, who was charged with the task of presenting the retired pontiff with letters expressing concern and asking about his well-being five years after resigning from the papacy.
Despite the recent report on Benedict’s health in Neue Post, the Vatican in its statement said that, “in two months, Benedict will turn 91 years old, and, as he himself recently said, he feels the weight of these years, as is normal at this age.”