The Vatican today denied rumors that Pope Benedict XVI has bone cancer and that recent surgery to replace the battery in his pacemaker contributed to his decision to resign from office.
Benedict underwent the heart procedure three months ago, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said today, adding that he believes the pacemaker was fitted on Benedict before he was elected pope nearly eight years ago, while he was a cardinal.
"[It was] not a serious operation, just normal routine. [The surgery] had nothing to do with his decision," Lombardi said.
Lombardi also said Benedict will keep all his appointments until Feb. 28, the date he announced that he will step down as pontiff. His last weekly general audience will be held Feb 27.
Lombardi said Benedict will depart at 8 p.m. Feb 28 "because that is the day he normally finishes his work day."
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke also discussed the heart operation during an interview with "Good Morning America" today.
"The pope's health right now is what you see, of an 85-year-old, who is almost 86, and who is starting to slow," he said. "He does have that heart condition. That was not the reason for the resignation. People have pacemaker batteries replaced all the time. His mind is clear. It's more in mobility, and slowing down a bit."
Burke also denied rumors that Benedict has bone cancer, saying that it is "certainly not true."
The pope will live in the convent inside the Vatican for cloistered nuns who no longer live there, Lombardi said, adding that the building is small.
The convent is being redecorated and rebuilt to make it more suitable for a residence, Lombardi said.
Benedict's surprise decision to carry out the first papal resignation in nearly 600 years was a year in the making, and was only known beforehand by two top Vatican cardinals. The pope's older brother, Monsignor Georg Ratzinger, a church official in Germany, today held a news conference to say the decision was well thought out, and that no one "pushed" his brother out.
The news provoked Vatican intrigue, leading to speculation about who will be the 266th pope of the 2,000-year-old church, the largest religious body on earth with roughly 1 billion members.
The Vatican says the outgoing pope won't be voting on the new pontiff, but his impact will be felt because he personally appointed more than half of the cardinals who will be casting ballots. What role he will play once a new pope is chosen is still unclear.
"I assume if the new pope wants to ask for his council, he's clearly going to give it," Burke said. "But he's not going to go be there looking to try to influence the new pope."