Ailing Pope Taken to Rome Hospital

Pope John Paul II (search) was rushed to a hospital in Rome late Tuesday night after suffering a "larynx spasm crisis," the Vatican said.

Shortly after midnight, Vatican (search ) spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told The Associated Press that the decision to hospitalize the 84-year-old pontiff was "mainly a precaution." He was taken to the hospital at 10:50 p.m.

The pope has been suffering from the flu since Sunday and apparently suffered a "breathing crisis," a Vatican official told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

However, Navarro-Valls noted that the pope was not in intensive care but in the same 10th floor suite of rooms where he has been during several previous stays at Rome's Gemelli Polyclinic (search), about 21/2 miles from the Vatican.

The pope has the flu and acute laryngeal tracheitis, he said, acknowledging the pontiff had a "certain difficulty in breathing." Navarro-Valls, who has a medical degree, denied Italian news reports that John Paul had a CAT scan at the hospital.

Navarro-Valls said more tests will be done on Wednesday. The Vatican planned to issue a medical bulletin on Wednesday morning sometime after 9 a.m. (3 a.m. EST), the spokesman said. The hospital said the first statement would be from the Vatican. Journalists were being kept out of the facility.

The Vatican said in an earlier statement that the pope suffered from "an acute laryngeal tracheitis and larynx spasm crisis."

Tracheitis, an inflammation of the trachea, requires hospitalization and usually a breathing tube to keep the airway clear. The spasms are likely a complication from the respiratory illness he has had.

It's possible his Parkinson's disease has made his condition more serious and his breathing more labored.

Italian news agencies reported that the pope was taken to the hospital in the ambulance which is always at his ready.

A close member of the pope's staff, American Archbishop James Harvey, said John Paul had congestion and a slight fever during the day.

He said the decision to hospitalize the pope was made by close aides. It apparently took many at the Vatican by surprise and cars with Vatican license plates began pulling up at the hospital only after John Paul arrived.

A State Department official, who asked not to be identified, said he would be kept overnight for observation but there was no indication he was gravely ill.

The teaching hospital is where John Paul was taken when he was shot in the abdomen by a would-be assassin in 1981, and where he has undergone several operations.

The frail pontiff's Parkinson's disease makes his speech difficult, and he also has chronic hip and knee problems.

He was last seen in public on Sunday, when he made his regular noontime appearance at his window overlooking St. Peter's Square and released a dove in a sign of peace. He appeared remarkably lively, but his words were barely audible.

Until the pope was taken to the hospital, the Vatican had been issuing reassuring news about his condition, up to Tuesday's late night newscast on Vatican radio.

First word of his hospitalization came from Italian news media.

The Vatican announced earlier Tuesday that it had canceled the pope's engagements for the next few days.

These included his weekly public audience Wednesday. Besides the traditional morning gathering with the faithful, he had been scheduled to preside at a candle-blessing service in St. Peter's Basilica that evening.

The flu has been sweeping through Italy since December. The Rome region, shivering through nighttime subzero temperatures, has been among the hardest-hit.

About 40 percent of the flu victims are children, with the elderly making up only a small fraction because of an aggressive vaccination campaign, health officials said.

It was not known whether the pontiff had a flu shot.

Vatican Radio asked Navarro-Valls earlier Tuesday if the pope felt the good wishes of people worldwide who are concerned about his health.

"I think so, and as always, the Holy Father is grateful for the prayers of the faithful and of all those who love him. I think this closeness means a lot to him," Navarro-Valls said.

John Paul has kept a busy schedule despite difficulties with speech and movement that are typical for Parkinson's sufferers.

The last time he skipped an audience because of illness was in September 2003, when he canceled his traditional Wednesday appointment with pilgrims and tourists because of an intestinal ailment.

The Vatican makes brief announcements when the pope falls ill but rarely provides details about medication ir the extent of the illness.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.