In another surprise development from Rome, the Vatican confirmed Tuesday that Pope Benedict XVI has had a pacemaker for over a decade and that its battery was replaced a few months ago.
Responding to a report in the Italian daily Il Sole 24 that said the operation had been carried at the Pius XI clinic in Rome in great secrecy, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, told reporters at a news conference, that the surgery had been routine and unconnected to Benedict's decision to step down, The Guardian reports.
"It was a routine replacement of the batteries," Lombardi said, declining to give a date for the operation, which took place just under three months ago, according to The Guardian.
It was the first time the Vatican has mentioned a papal pacemaker, The Associated Press reports.
Greg Burke, the Vatican’s senior communications adviser, said Benedict was fitted with the pacemaker roughly 10 years ago — a period when Benedict, then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was the head of the Vatican’s main doctrinal office, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, according to The New York Times.
“You don’t resign because you have a pacemaker or because you have a new battery for a pacemaker,” Burke said.
“This did not weigh on his decision,” Lombardi added, The Times reports. “It is more about his forces diminishing.”
The news about the pacemaker, designed to regulate an irregular heartbeat, comes just a day after the 85-year-old pontiff shocked the world announcing that he would step down from his position as pope at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, the first papal resignation for nearly 600 years.
Lombardi also told reporters why Benedict had specifically stated that he would step down at 8 p.m. on Feb. 28, The Los Angeles Times reported.
The answer was simple: “It is the end of the pope’s normal working day,” Lombardi said.