By Elise Ann Allen
ROME (Crux) — After rumors in the German press Aug. 3 suggesting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI was suffering from a facial infection, the Vatican has confirmed the retired pontiff is sick but insisted his condition is normal for someone his age.
Peter Seewald, a biographer for Benedict who has published several book-length interviews with the retired pontiff, said he visited him Aug.1 to give him a copy of a recent biography, and that the 93-year-old was suffering from a facial infection following a visit to Regensburg last month to visit his ailing brother, Msgr. Georg Ratzinger, who died July 1.
Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni confirmed that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI is ill, telling journalists Aug. 3 that according to reports from Benedict’s personal secretary, German Archbishop Georg Gänswein, “the health conditions of the pope emeritus are not of particular concern, except for those of a 93-year-old who is going through the most acute phase of a painful, but not serious, illness.”
Aides to the retired pontiff told journalists that Benedict’s infection is an “inflammation of the trigeminal nerve,” meaning he has what Americans would refer to as shingles. According to the Mayo Clinic in the United States, experts estimate “that half the people age 80 and older will have shingles” at some point.
Pope Emeritus Benedict’s aides said that “the pain has passed,” and that Benedict is “slowly healing…but he’s absolutely not in a serious condition.”
Speaking to Crux, Doctor Bruno Casaregola, who has not treated the retired pope but who serves as medical director at Rome’s Salvator Mundi hospital, said that theoretically shingles can be life-threatening for an elderly person by triggering encephalitis, but that would require “a strong underlying immunodeficiency” which there is no basis to believe Benedict has.
Casaregola said the condition can cause chronic pain and potentially result in reduced functionality in the affected area, but those outcomes can be prevented with aggressive treatment.