Pope Francis is to undergo intestinal surgery under general anaesthetic and will be in hospital for several days, the Vatican announced on Wednesday.
It is the latest health issue to dog the 86-year-old leader of the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics in recent years, prompting speculation that he may opt to retire.
Two years ago, Pope Francis had 13in (33cm) of his colon removed because of an inflammation and narrowing of the large intestine.
In a statement, the Vatican said the pope was undergoing a “laparotomy and abdominal wall plastic surgery with prosthesis” to treat a “recurrent, painful and worsening” constriction of the intestine.
A laparotomy is open abdominal surgery. It can help a surgeon both diagnose and treat problems.
“The stay at [Rome’s Gemelli hospital] will last several days to allow for the normal post-operative course and full functional recovery,” the statement said.
On Tuesday, Francis went to the Gemelli for what the Vatican said were medical tests. It revealed no details at the time.
Earlier on Wednesday, Francis had appeared at his audience in Saint Peter’s Square, greeting the faithful from his popemobile. He also had two meetings on Wednesday morning before his admission to hospital, the Vatican said.
In March, Francis spent three days at the Gemelli hospital with bronchitis. Initially, the Vatican said he had gone in for scheduled tests but the pontiff later revealed he had felt pain in his chest and was rushed to the hospital, where bronchitis was diagnosed. He was put on intravenous antibiotics and released on 1 April, joking that he was “still alive”.
As a young man, Francis had part of one lung removed. He also suffers from sciatica nerve pain and has been using a wheelchair and walker for more than a year because of strained ligaments in his knee.
During a visit to Canada last July, he was clearly in pain as he lowered and raised himself from chairs. But he ruled out having surgery on his knee, saying there were “still traces” of the after-effects of more than six hours of anaesthesia when he underwent colon surgery.
The Canada trip had been a “bit of a test”, he told reporters. “At my age and with these limitations, I have to save [my energy] to be able to serve the church or, on the contrary, think about the possibility of stepping aside.”
However, Francis’s recent schedule has been full, and the Vatican recently confirmed a four-day visit to Portugal the first week of August and another trip to Mongolia at the end of August.
His predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI, who died in December aged 95, retired in 2013, saying he had to “recognise my incapacity to adequately fulfil the ministry entrusted to me”.
The move – the first time a pope had stepped down as leader of the Roman Catholic church for 600 years – was seen as a potential precedent for his successors.