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Pope to undergo surgery?

A newspaper reported Friday that a top German surgeon was holding talks with the Vatican about carrying out a hip operation on Pope John Paul II.

The Flensburger Tageblatt, a north German daily newspaper, said in an advance release from Saturday's edition that Dr. Wolfram Thomas had confirmed the Vatican was talking with him about a "disease of the joints" afflicting the pope."I will either operate alone or together with colleagues," the paper quoted Thomas as saying.

Thomas also said the 77-year-old pope could be helped by the implantation of an an artificial hip joint. Without this, his pain would increase and life in a wheelchair could not be ruled out, Thomas reportedly said.

The pontiff, whose health has often been the subject of intense speculation, is currently on a tour of Brazil. No comment was immediately available from the Vatican.

The pope has undergone surgery several times during his pontificate - including interventions to save his life after an assassination attempt in 1981, to remove a large intestinal tumor and to replace a broken thigh bone.

The Flensburger Tagesblatt said Thomas had performed a knee operation on Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti a few years ago.