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Vatican Says Rumors About Pope's Health Are Attempt To Undermine Him

Vatican spokesman Rev. Federico Lombardi (right) is denying claims in Italian newspapers that Pope Francis has a benign brain tumor. The rumors are part of an attempt to undermine the pope, the Vatican says.

After repeatedly denying reports that Pope Francis has a benign brain tumor Wednesday, the Vatican is going a step further, calling the rumor "false information" that's meant to destabilize the papacy. The doctor named in the reports also says they're untrue.

The stringent denials came after the Quotidiano Nazionale and other Italian newspapers reported that in recent months, Francis had been visited by a Japanese doctor to diagnose a tumor.

The reports emerged as Francis, 78, has been attending a large gathering of bishops, where three weeks of meetings have been marked by disagreements over how the church approaches marriage, sex and homosexuality.

From Rome, NPR'S Sylvia Poggioli reports:

"The suggestion that the tumor report was part of a plot against Pope Francis was put forth by the official Vatican daily L'Osservatore Romano. It wrote, "the timing of the claim reveals there was an intent to manipulate and cause a dust storm of confusion."

"Cardinal Walter Kasper said it was part of an effort to undermine the bishops' assembly. And Buenos Aires Archbishop Victor Manuel Fernandez said spreading false information to discredit a person in power is as old as antiquity. It's an attempt to make Francis appear weak, he added, and in need to be replaced.

"Several Vatican analysts say the tumor claim in an Italian right-leaning daily insinuated the pope's mental condition is responsible for alleged chaos in the church."

The doctor named in the Italian reports is Takanori Fukushima, a neurosurgeon who lives in North Carolina and works at the Duke University Medical Center and the Carolina Neuroscience Institute.

"I have never medically examined the pope," Fukushima said in a statement released by Duke last night and relayed by the AP. "These stories are completely false."

As the Raleigh News & Observer reports, Fukushima has met Pope Francis at least twice – once last September and again in January, according to photos and blog entries posted by the brain surgeon. The newspaper says that in those cases, Fukushima visited the Holy See during trips to perform surgeries in Europe.

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