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Health

New pope suffered 1991 brain hemorrhage


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Pope Benedict XVI waves to the crowd at the Vatican after his election Tuesday.
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VATICAN CITY (CNN) -- When he was a cardinal in 1991, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, suffered a brain hemorrhage "which laid him down for a while, but he recovered from it," said CNN Vatican analyst John Allen on Wednesday.

The 78-year-old cardinal, chosen on Tuesday to become the new pope, now "appears to be in basically good health," but also is aware that his pontificate may not last "very long," said Allen, author of a 2000 biography of Ratzinger, "Cardinal Ratzinger: The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith."

"About two years ago he was experiencing fatigue, but appears to have picked up from that," Allen said.

Ratzinger's brother Georg Ratzinger has raised questions about whether someone of the pope's age is fit for the post.

Before Benedict was elected pope, Georg Ratzinger said he was "convinced" that his brother would "be spared from this burden. At age 78, it's not good to take on such a job which challenges the entire person and the physical and mental existence," Allen said.

"At an age when you approach 80, it's no longer guaranteed that one is able to work and get up the next day."

Allen said the new pope's health is "OK," and "everyone who has worked with him and seen him in recent months, including myself, would say he appears to be in basically good health."

"But on the other hand, let's not kid ourselves," Allen said. "At 78 years of age it's unlikely we're going to see another 26-year pontificate," such as John Paul II's, which lasted from 1978 to his death on April 2 at age 84.

When Ratzinger told cardinals in the conclave why he wanted to take on the name Benedict XVI, "one of the things he alluded to was the fact that Benedict XV, the last pope to have that name, had one of the shortest pontificates of the 20th century," Allen said.

"So I think he has a very keen sense that this may not be a very long pontificate and there's an awful lot to do."


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