Pope Francis was admitted to the hospital for intestinal surgery Wednesday, the latest malady to befall the 86-year-old pontiff who had part of his colon removed two years ago.
Francis was expected to be put under general anesthesia for the procedure and remain at Rome's Gemelli hospital for several days, the Vatican said.
The pope was suffering from a “recurrent, painful and worsening” hernia that formed over a previous scar, presumably from his 2021 colon surgery. Experts said the formation of the hernia, called a laparocele, is a known complication from intestinal surgery.
He will undergo open abdominal surgery, which can help a surgeon both diagnose and treat issues. The fact that he was going back for surgery suggested he had little choice but to treat the intestinal issue, especially given the rigorous upcoming travel schedule this summer.
“When the intestines are trapped, the blood supply to the bowel is compromised and if you don’t take care of it, the bowel will die and you will have gangrenous intestines,” said Dr. Walter Longo, chief of colon and rectal surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.
He said Francis should be OK after a few weeks of recovery, but he noted that the aging pope is already frail and not in great shape. “There’s the risk of going through surgery, operating on a fragile individual, but if he can get through it, he will be fine,” he said.
Francis remains in charge of the Vatican and the 1.3-billion strong Catholic Church, even while unconscious and in the hospital, according to canon law.
In July 2021, Francis spent 10 days at Gemelli to remove 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his large intestine. He had suffered what the Vatican said was a severe inflammation and narrowing of the colon. In an interview with The Associated Press in January, Francis said the diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, that had prompted the 2021 surgery, had returned.
After the 2021 surgery, Francis lamented that he hadn’t responded well to the general anesthetic used in the longer-than-expected procedure. That reaction in part explained his refusal to have surgery to repair strained knee ligaments that have forced him to use a wheelchair and walker for over a year.
The Argentine pope had part of one lung removed when he was a young man. He also suffers from sciatica nerve pain. In late March, Francis spent three days at Gemelli for bronchitis, during which he was treated with intravenous antibiotics. He emerged April 1 saying “Still alive!”
After celebrating his weekly general audience, the pope was driven in his Fiat 500 out of the Vatican shortly after 11 a.m. and arrived at the Gemelli some 20 minutes later, escorted by police.
“The stay at the health facility will last several days to allow for the normal post-operative course and full functional recovery,” the Vatican said in a statement. An update was not expected until after the procedure.
Francis initially went to the Gemelli on Tuesday for what the Vatican said were medical tests. It revealed no details at the time.
The pope had appeared in good form Wednesday morning at his audience in St. Peter’s Square, zipping around the square in his popemobile greeting the faithful. He also had two meetings beforehand, the Vatican said.
Francis has had a packed schedule of late, with multiple audiences each day. The Vatican has recently confirmed a travel-filled August, when the Holy See and Italy are usually on vacation, with a four-day visit to Portugal the first week of August and a similarly long trip to Mongolia starting Aug. 31.
In a sign that the trips were very much on, the Vatican on Tuesday released the planned itinerary for Francis’ visit to Portugal for World Youth Day events from Aug. 2-6. The itinerary confirms a typically busy schedule that includes all the protocol meetings of an official state visit plus multiple events with young people and a day trip to the Marian shrine at Fatima.