Pope Francis to undergo operation for hernia

Wednesday June 07 2023

Pope Francis, seated in a wheelchair, prepares to leave at the end of the weekly general audience at St. Peter's square as in The Vatican, Italy on June 7, 2023. PHOTO | AFP


Pope Francis will undergo an operation for a painful abdominal hernia on Wednesday, reviving concerns over the 86-year-old's increasingly fragile health.

Francis was admitted mid-morning to the Gemelli hospital in Rome, where he is expected to stay for several days.

"The 86-year-old, who underwent colon surgery in 2021, is suffering from a hernia which is causing recurrent, painful and worsening symptoms," Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said in a statement.

Francis looked in good spirits as he led his weekly general audience at the Vatican, before leaving for the hospital in his white Fiat 500, which was escorted through Rome by police cars with their sirens blaring.

"In the early afternoon he will undergo a laparotomy and abdominal wall surgery... under general anaesthesia," Bruni said.

A laparotomy is a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity.


The Vatican said Francis was suffering from a laparocele, which is a hernia that can form over a scar from a previous surgery.

"The stay at the health facility will last several days to allow the normal post-operative course and full functional recovery," the Vatican said.

Read: Pope Francis responds well to antibiotics

Francis retains all his powers as pontiff even while unconscious.

'Vatican 3'

The pope had briefly visited the Gemelli on Tuesday for what the Vatican said were "clinical tests".

The Gemelli hospital is the favoured choice of pontiffs to the point of being dubbed "Vatican 3" by pope John Paul II, who was treated nine times at Gemelli and spent a total of 153 days there.

Francis, who has been the leader of the world's 1.3 billion Catholics for a decade, has suffered increasing health issues over the past year.

In July 2021 he underwent surgery at Gemelli for a type of diverticulitis, an inflammation of pockets that develop in the lining of the intestine.

He was discharged after 10 days, but, in an interview in January this year, he said the diverticulitis had returned.

Francis was also hospitalised for three nights at the end of March with a respiratory infection, which was cured with antibiotics.

The pope's hospital stays have always sparked concern and fuelled speculation over his future.

Francis' predecessor, Benedict XVI, who died in December, quit in 2013 due to failing health.

Side effects

For about a year, the pope has had to rely on a wheelchair due to recurring knee pain.

Read: Pope to skip Sunday mass as he recovers from surgery

He has said he does not want to have an operation on his knee because of the side-effects he suffered from the general anaesthesia for his colon surgery.

Asked about his health in an interview with US Spanish-language network Telemundo broadcast in May, Francis said it was "much better".

"I can walk now. My knee has been mending. I could hardly walk beforehand. Now I can. Some days are more painful than others," the pope said.

Francis added that doctors had caught his respiratory infection just in time.

"If we'd waited a few more hours, it would've been much more serious. But I was out (of hospital) in four days," he said.

Francis continues to travel widely, though he acknowledged in July 2022 that he needed to slow down.

"At my age and with this limitation, I have to save myself a little bit to be able to serve the Church," he said then.

"Or, alternatively, to think about the possibility of stepping aside."

In March, however, he insisted that he had no current plans to quit, and on Wednesday the Vatican released the schedule for the pope's trip to Portugal in early August.