So, the Catholic Church doesn't believe in euthanasia. Have I got that right?
This 84 year old guy is pretty ill, and has been for a while. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease a few years ago, and has been visibly wilting ever since. Ten days ago he was admitted to hospital with "flu-like symptoms", but just when the cardinals were starting to get excited, he was discharged. Now he has been readmitted with problems breathing and has been given a tracheotomy - a tube has been inserted through his throat to aid the supply of oxygen to his lungs. Naturally, this means that the Supreme Pontiff has been unable to talk, but he is said to be "serene and tranquil" after the procedure, and has raised an arm to "acknowledge the team of doctor's caring for him".
But how will the Church function whilst God's Representative on Earth is so ill?
Ah that's okay, you needn't worry. He may be extremely ill, barely conscious and have a tube through his throat, but the Vatican have deemed that the Pope is still capable of making important decisions.
Considering he has been so ill, the Pope has been surprisingly productive over the last few days actually. Apparently a lot of saints have been created, many of them Polish. Is this the last rush of a man who knows his time is running out? Maybe. The (even) more cynical view is that his adminstration, many of whom are Polish, are desperately trying to get as many changes made as possible whilst they still can.... when the Pope dies, they will be out of a job. New Pope, new administration. No wonder they are so keen for the Pope to make important decisions from his deathbed, er, I mean his hospital bed. Apparently there has been a stream of senior advisors to his bedside, many of them no doubt clutching important papers to be signed. All this whilst Catholic figures debate whether or not it is right to use life-support machines to artificially extend the Pope's life.
Dear oh dear. So much for the dignity of the position. It's all very unseemly. Although, to be fair, renaissance Popes used to die in much more colourful ways - red hot pokers shoved where they wouldn't leave a mark, that kind of thing, so it could be worse.
There are hundreds of millions of Catholics, and according to Catholic doctrine, the word of the Pope carries the same weight as the word of God. What he says goes. That's quite a responsibility, and the world had high hopes of Karol Worjtyla when he became the youngest Pope of the Twentieth Century in 1978 at the age of 58 (The cardinals aren't daft: electing the pope is their great power, so they usually make sure that they go for someone who won't last too long. They appear to have miscalculated this time). He was dynamic and wanted to take the church to the people. Shame then that the legacy he will leave is one of conservatism and a Catholic Church as out of touch with the modern world as it ever has been. This is the man who, at a time when AIDS is sweeping across the world and especially across Catholic Africa, spoke out against contraception. He has also spoken out against abortion, homosexual unions and rights for unmarried couples.
And this is a progressive Pope.
I'm sure God is waiting for him with open arms.