The Vatican, responding to a German newspaper report that former Pope Benedict XVI was seriously ill, said on Monday his condition was “not particularly worrying” and that he was overcoming a painful but not grave ailment.
The clarification came hours after Benedict’s biographer, Peter Seewald, sparked alarm by telling the Passauer Neue Presse that he had found the 93-year-old ex-pope exceptionally frail when he visited him on Saturday.
Seewald said Benedict, who has been in shaky health for some time, was now suffering from shingles, a viral infection that causes painful rashes and is common among older people.
“The health conditions of the Pope Emeritus are not particularly worrying, apart from being those of an old man of 93 who is overcoming the most acute phase of a painful but not grave illness,” the statement said.
Seewald said Benedict’s voice was barely audible – echoing something other visitors have said for months – and that the former pope told him he might pick up writing again if he regains his strength.
In June, Benedict, who lives in a former convent in the Vatican gardens, left Italy for the first time since his resignation in 2013 for an emotional farewell visit to his older brother Georg in their native Bavaria.
Georg Ratzinger died on 1 July aged 96. The two brothers were ordained priests on the same day in 1951.
Benedict, who was elected in 2005 to succeed the widely popular Pope John Paul II after a reign of nearly 27 years, shocked the world and even his closest aides on 11 February, 2013, when he announced in Latin he was stepping down.
He told a gathering of cardinals that he was too old and frail to lead an institution with more than 1.3 billion members.
At the time of Benedict’s resignation the Vatican was mired in a raft of financial woes, sexual abuse scandals and infighting among bureaucrats that led to leaks of important documents.
Benedict said his resignation was for exclusively health reasons.
Hardline conservatives in the Church who have been alarmed by Pope Francis’ progressive moves have looked to Benedict as their standard bearer. This forced the former pope on several occasions to remind them that there is only one pope – Francis. (Additional reporting by Thomas Seythal, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Mark Heinrich)