Vatican dismisses media claim on possible new operation for Pope


The senior Vatican spokesman, Dr Joaquin Navarro Valls, has denied media speculation that Pope John Paul II may need to undergo a fresh operation on the right leg and hip on which he had bone replacement surgery three years ago, following a fall in his bathroom in the pontifical apartment in the Vatican.

According to a report in the north German daily Flensburger Tageblatt, the Rome-based German orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Wolfram Thomas, has been contacted by Vatican sources with regard to possible further surgery on the Pope. The report quoted Prof Thomas as saying that the Pope's advisers were worried that he may have a "disease of the joints", which would explain why, three years after the operation on his right leg, he still limps badly, nearly always using a walking stick on public occasions.

Speaking in Brazil, where he is accompanying the Pope on a pastoral visit, Dr Navarro Valls denied the media reports about another hip operation, adding that the Pope's general health was "good".

Dr Thomas "has never visited the Holy Father," he said. "The hypothesis that is being referred to - a surgical operation to correct a functional insufficiency of the right hip - has never been taken into consideration. The information, therefore, is without foundation."

Pope John Paul yesterday said Mass for more than 1.5 million people on a Rio de Janeiro beachfront, before leaving Brazil. The last homily of his trip, read to the crowd on the Flamengo beach-front esplanade facing the Guanabara Bay, was a tribute to family life weaved around religious themes.

The purpose of the trip, the Pope's 80th outside Italy, was to preside at the closing of an international Catholic meeting on the family. On Saturday night he condemned abortion, urging Catholics to fight what he called an "abominable crime" and the "shame of humanity".

The political significance of the Pope's words in Brazil, which is in the throes of a national debate on whether abortion should be more readily available, were not lost on anyone. The abortion debate has even involved the country's first lady, Ms Ruth Cardoso, who was quoted by newspapers on Thursday as saying the Pope should not seek to influence the debate.

The Vatican spokesman, Dr Navarro Valls, said the Pope had no choice but to speak out strongly about abortion because the whole trip centred on threats to the family. "The Pope feels strongly that you cannot cancel out the rights of the unborn merely in the name of so-called women's rights."