12 April 2013
The health of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has deteriorated, the Vatican has revealed.
Senior church officials were forced to make their fears public after a respected Vatican expert declared 'we won't have him with us for very much longer'.
The 85-year-old, who stepped down in February, has looked increasingly frail in his few public appearances.
He is reported to have appeared unsteady on his feet when his successor, Pope Francis, visited him at the papal summer retreat of Castel Gandolfo near Rome recently.
But some Vatican insiders have said recent suggestions that he does not have long to live by respected Holy See observer Paloma Gomez Borerro are alarmist, according to The Telegraph - although it is generally agreed Benedict has appeared weaker in recent months.
Spanish journalist Ms Borerro stands by her claims, saying: 'Benedict is in a very bad way.
'In the last 15 days he has undergone a tremendous physical deterioration.'
The Pope Emeritus had given his deteriorating mental and physical strength as reasons behind his decision to step down.
It was revealed in March that Pope Benedict had had a pacemaker fitted about ten years ago, and that a replacement had been fitted soon before he announced his retirement - while his eyesight is also thought to be deteriorating.
Pope Benedict's health was also called into question by some commentators in 2010 during his gruelling state visit to Britain when he attended huge events across the country.
'At his final public appearances, it was evident that he was having difficulty walking. He started using a cane about a year ago. The overall decline has been steady, there's no doubt about it,' one insider told The Telegraph.
Benedict is due to move to a former convent within the Vatican within the next month.
The retired pontiff has reportedly taken with him a number theology books as well as music to listen to.
He was also hoping to play the piano - one of his favourite pastimes - in the evenings.