VATICAN CITY — Ailing Pope John Paul II is "in a bad way," one of his closest advisers said in an interview published today, calling on the faithful to pray for him.
An aide to Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, however, told The Associated Press that the comments in no way indicated John Paul's health had worsened in recent days. Instead, they reflected concern about John Paul's frailty, the aide said.
The Polish-born pontiff, who was elected as pope in 1978, is 83 and suffers from Parkinson's disease.
"He is in a bad way," Ratzinger told the German weekly Bunte, which said its correspondent spoke with him at the Vatican on Sept. 22. "We should pray for the pope."
Those comments to some degree only confirm what's been obvious in John Paul's recent appearances, but also raised concerns the pope's health might have deteriorated beyond what has visible to all.
However, Ratzinger's aide, the Rev. Georg Gaenswein, said Ratzinger's remarks did not mean John Paul's health had worsened in recent days. He said Ratzinger's remarks came in response to a request by a group of visiting German brewers to have an audience with the pontiff while they were in Rome.
"They were told, 'Unfortunately, this is not possible. The pope's health doesn't allow him to make a lot of physical effort,"' Gaenswein recalled.
Gaenswein noted that conserving strength was particularly important in the run-up to a heavy schedule John Paul has given himself for the month of October, including celebrations of his 25th anniversary as pope.
On Sept. 23, the pontiff came down with an intestinal ailment that caused him to skip his weekly general audience the next day.
Asked whether Ratzinger's comments indicated any change in the pope's condition, the Vatican press office replied by noting that John Paul would resume the general audience on Wednesday.
The pope will also celebrate a Mass on Sunday on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica to raise three churchmen to sainthood, the Vatican announced today. Canonization ceremonies generally last about two hours, an indication that the pope's doctors think he has the stamina for the appearance.
The Vatican recently also announced that the pope is forging ahead with plans to visit a Marian sanctuary in Pompeii, southern Italy, on Oct. 7.
On Sunday, John Paul spoke with great difficulty and stopped to catch his breath several times as he announced the appointments of 31 new cardinals from his studio window overlooking St. Peter's Square.
Asked whether the pope is taking on too much given his state of health, Ratzinger was quoted as telling Bunte that "that is very probably the case." But, pressed as to whether he could dissuade the ailing pontiff from loading himself with duties, he added: "that's something other people must do."
Bunte described the cardinal as speaking in an interview, but Gaenswein denied that a formal interview had been granted.
The magazine quoted Gaenswein as saying of the pope: "He cannot walk and stand any more, but for the faithful he is a hero."'
Ratzinger, the Vatican's top guardian for doctrinal orthodoxy, celebrated a roughly 1 1/2-hour Mass on Saturday the basilica, a memorial ceremony for John Paul's two predecessors in which the pontiff read the homily.
In the last couple of years, top aides have filled in for the pope during several ceremonies in celebrating Mass, while John Paul presides.