Pope John Paul was in a “very grave” condition today and appeared close to death after suffering heart failure, the Vatican said.
“He is fading serenely,” said Polish Cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, a close friend.
But the Holy See denied reports that the 84-year-old pontiff was in a coma in his Vatican apartment after refusing hospital treatment.
The Pope’s fragile health took a sharp turn for the worse last night as he developed a high fever caused by an infection. After initially stabilising, his condition then deteriorated further, the Vatican said.
John Paul suffered heart failure during treatment for a urinary tract infection and was in a “very serious” condition today, the Vatican said.
The Vatican said it would issue the next health bulletin later this morning.
Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in the previous statement the Pope experienced septic shock and heart failure yesterday afternoon.
“This morning the condition of the Holy Father is very serious,” the statement said.
However, it said that the Pope had participated in a 6am Mass today and that he was “conscious, lucid, and serene”.
The Polish-born Pope’s health declined sharply yesterday, when he developed a high fever brought on by the urinary tract infection.
The Pope’s wish to remain in his apartment at the Vatican and not be taken to the hospital was respected, Navarro-Valls said.
The Pontiff was attended to there by the Vatican medical team, and provided with “all the appropriate therapeutic provisions and cardio-respiratory assistance,” the statement said.
It said the Pope was being helped by his personal doctor, two intensive care doctors, a cardiologist, an ear, nose and throat specialist and two nurses.
The statement confirmed previous reports the Pope had received the sacrament for the sick and dying yesterday evening. Formerly called the last rites, the sacrament is often misunderstood as signalling imminent death. It is performed, however, not only for patients at the point of death, but also for those who are very sick – and it may be repeated.
The Rome daily newspaper La Repubblica reported today that the sacrament was administered by John Paul’s closest aide, Polish Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who serves as his private secretary.
Dziwisz had given the Pontiff the same sacrament on February 24 just before the Pope underwent a tracheotomy to insert a tube in his throat at Gemelli Polyclinic, the newspaper said.
Vatican radio said today the Pope’s condition had stabilised and he was reacting to treatment with antibiotics.
Heart failure occurs when the heart no longer has the strength to pump blood through the body, and is a sign that the body’s cardiac system is failing.
After a pope dies, cardinals from around the world are called to Rome to chose a successor at a conclave which starts in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel 15 to 20 days after the death.
The Pope has led the 1.1 billion-member Church for more than 26 years, revolutionising his office and taking his sometimes controversial and conservative message far beyond the confines of the tiny Vatican state.
But his health has declined steadily over the past decade, worn down by debilitating Parkinson’s disease. He has been seriously ill for most of the past two months and has failed to recover from recent throat surgery aimed at helping him breathe.
St Peter’s Square was quiet this morning with a few tourists and pilgrims stopping to look up at the Pontiff’s third floor window. As always Swiss guards in the colourful uniforms stood by at the open bronze door which by tradition is closed upon the death of a Pontiff.
In hospital twice last month following two breathing crises and with a tube placed in his throat to help him breathe, John Paul has become a picture of suffering.
When he appeared at his apartment window on Wednesday to bless pilgrims in St Peter’s Square, he managed to utter only a rasp.
Later that day, the Vatican announced he had been fitted with a feeding tube in his nose to help boost his nutritional intake.
John Paul’s 26-year papacy has been marked by its call to value the aged and to respect the sick, subjects the Pope has turned to as he battles Parkinson’s disease and crippling knee and hip ailments.
It is not clear who would be empowered to make medical decisions for an unconscious pope. The Vatican has officially declined to comment whether John Paul has left written instructions.