Pope Francis to Remain Hospitalized After Surgery, Vatican Spokesman Says

The Holy Father is in ‘good general condition, alert and breathing on his own,’ following the three-hour procedure to relieve a rare diverticulitis complication, Matteo Bruni said Monday.

Pope Francis is shown above attending a prayer meeting for peace in Rome's Piazza del Campidoglio on Oct. 20, 2020. He underwent surgery yesterday, July 4.
Pope Francis is shown above attending a prayer meeting for peace in Rome's Piazza del Campidoglio on Oct. 20, 2020. He underwent surgery yesterday, July 4. (photo: Vatican Media / National Catholic Register)

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis is expected to remain in the hospital “for about seven days, barring any complications,” Vatican spokesman Matteo Bruni said today.

The Holy Father was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Sunday afternoon for a scheduled operation on his colon.

In a short statement on Monday morning, Bruni said the 84-year-old pontiff “is in a good general condition, alert, and breathing on his own.” 

He added that the “surgery for diverticular stenosis, carried out in the evening of July 4, involved a left hemicolectomy and lasted about three hours.”

Stenosis is the medical term for a narrowing of a passage in the body, in this case the intestine, while diverticular is the name given to a disease in which sac-like pouches protrude from the normally smooth walls of the colon. 

The ailment is common — about two-thirds of Americans contract it in some form by the age of 85, according to Harvard Medical School. It does not usually cause major problems and can be treated with antibiotics.

However, the disease can lead to diverticulitis, or inflammation or infection, causing abdominal pain and feeling bloated. Pope Francis is reported to have “stricture formation” — a rare diverticulitis complication, which can develop from recurrent bouts of the disease. 

“In response to repeated inflammation, a portion of the colon becomes scarred and narrowed,” according to Harvard Medical School. “Doctors call such narrowing a stricture, and they must call on surgeons to correct the problem so fecal material can pass through without obstruction.” 

Hemicolectomy is the type of surgery carried out to remove the affected part of the colon, a procedure that should not have any effect on a person’s digestive system. 

The Pope was admitted to Gemelli hospital on Sunday afternoon. Late Sunday evening, the Vatican released a statement saying the Pope had “reacted well to the operation, conducted under general anesthesia.” 

The surgery was performed by Dr. Sergio Alfieri, with three other surgeons assisting, and four anesthetists. Two other doctors were also present, one of whom was Dr. Roberto Bernabei, the Pope’s personal physician, whom Francis appointed in February. 

Pope Francis will spend the remaining days in the same hospital rooms as Pope St. John Paul II used, on the 10th floor of the Gemelli. Only a very small number of medical personnel are allowed access to the floor, and the security will remain tight even once he has left. 

John Paul was admitted seven times to Gemelli hospital, leading him to jokingly call the infirmary the “Third Vatican,” the other two being St. Peter’s and Castel Gandolfo, his summer residence. 

This is the first time the rooms have been used since they were closed for renovation after John Paul’s death in 2005. 

Pope Francis had just begun his monthlong summer vacation when he was admitted to the hospital on Sunday. 

As in previous years, the Pope is expected to take a “staycation”; and once he is discharged from the hospital, he will remain at his Santa Marta residence for the month of July. 

All official audiences are suspended except for his Sunday Angelus address. During that time, he is expected to use the time to work on papal documents and hold private meetings.

Pope Francis has only had one other operation during his eight year pontificate: surgery in 2019 for cataracts, according to CNA. 

Earlier this year, the Pope was forced to miss several public events due to a recurrence of the sciatic pain that struck him at the end of 2020. Francis has suffered from the painful condition for several years.