POPE DEATH WATCH
NYT features this story prominently on the web version:
For the next week, a more intense spotlight than usual falls on the headquarters of the Roman Catholic church as Pope John Paul II celebrates his 25th anniversary in office. The pope himself will occupy center stage.
But arrayed around him will be the often ambitious, sometimes fractious members of his inner circle. That group is taking on greater importance as the 83-year-old pope becomes sicker and frailer.
Vatican officials say John Paul still makes the most important decisions and is able to do so.
“He’s clear as a bell and as sharp as he ever was,” said Cardinal Edmund Casimir Szoka, the chief administrator of Vatican City and a former archbishop of Detroit. But he added, “Clearly, he can’t cover as much territory as he once did.”
As a result, John Paul leaves more and more of the church’s everyday business to his closest aides. At the same time, fewer and fewer of those aides have regular, dependable access to him.
The pontiff is an old man who took a bullet 22 years ago. It’s not surprising he’s in poor health. What is surprising is that variations on this story have been in the press for, oh, the last decade or so. But like a Timex, he keeps on ticking.