VATICAN CITY • The Vatican yesterday dismissed as "unfounded and seriously irresponsible" an Italian media report that Pope Francis has a curable brain tumour.
But Quotidiano Nazionale, the newspaper which made the claim, said it stood by its story that a "small dark spot" had been detected on the 78-year-old pontiff's brain several months ago.
The paper said the spot was discovered by Japanese neurosurgeon Takanori Fukushima, a world expert on skull base tumours, who is partly based at the San Rossore di Barbaricina clinic near Pisa in central Italy.
According to the report, the professor and a medical team were flown by helicopter to the Vatican to examine Pope Francis, concluding that the tumour was treatable without surgery.
Quotidiano based its story largely on the supposed account of a nurse at the clinic who reportedly saw medical notes under the Pope's real name, Jorge Mario Bergoglio.
But the Vatican's senior spokesman, Father Federico Lombardi, insisted the claims were baseless. "As everyone can see, the Pope continues to engage in his intense activity without any interruption and in absolutely normal fashion."
Mr Andrea Cangini, the director of Quotidiano, said he had anticipated the Vatican reaction.
"We waited a long time before publishing the report in order to carry out every possible check. We don't have the slightest doubt that it is founded," he said.
Pope Francis has maintained an intense work schedule throughout his two-and-a-half years in the Vatican, eschewing long summer breaks taken by some of his predecessors. He has looked weary at times and has, in several interviews, made reference to an apparent belief that he only has a few years to live.
But there has also been no sign of his intellectual energy diminishing as he has participated in an ongoing synod of clerics, which has seen his vision of how Church teaching on issues such as divorce and homosexuality should evolve resisted by conservatives.