Doc: Pope Recovered Faster Than Expected

The emergency room doctor who treated Pope John Paul II's (search) breathing crisis said in comments published Wednesday that the pontiff made a swifter-than-expected recovery and is generally in good health.

"The recovery time was more rapid than we initially predicted," and the pope was discharged a day ahead of initial estimates for his release, Dr. Rodolfo Proietti told Avvenire (search), the daily newspaper of the Italian Bishops Conference (search).

The interview provided the first public remarks by a member of the pope's medical team about the hospitalization.

Separately, the Vatican announced that a consistory would take place Feb. 24 in the Apostolic Palace, an indication that John Paul was getting well enough to resume some of his traditional duties.

During the ceremony, the pontiff traditionally proclaims the latest candidates to be saints. The announcement didn't say if the pope would actually read the proclamation, but Vatican sources indicated the consistory wouldn't have been scheduled unless John Paul was expected to be well enough to keep the appointment.

A leading cardinal also said the pope can continue at the helm of the church even if his speech problems worsen to the point of muteness.

"It's one thing to consecrate (the host, at Mass). It's another thing to exercise power of jurisdiction, which doesn't just happen through speech," Italian Cardinal Francesco Pompedda, said in an interview with Famiglia Cristiana, an Italian Catholic magazine.

"We're talking about an act of the will, and that can be expressed in various ways, in writing or by gestures," said Pompedda, one of the Vatican's top legal affairs experts.

John Paul was rushed, in the throes of what Vatican officials have described as a "breathing crisis," in an ambulance from the Vatican the night of Feb. 1 to Gemelli Polyclinic. He was discharged on Feb. 10.

The pontiff, who turns 85 in May, has long suffered from Parkinson's disease, and the recent health crisis provoked open talk among top Vatican officials about whether he should resign.

With only a few, terse medical bulletins issued by the Vatican, and none by Gemelli doctors, some observers have speculated on whether the pontiff had health problems beyond the officially cited voice box spasms and tracheal inflammation.

But Proietti, who directs the teaching hospital's emergency department, insisted there was "absolutely no mystery" about the pope's health.

The throat problem with spasms "fortunately was resolved with relative speed and without the appearance of other complications," Proietti told Avvenire.

The doctor said the pope suffers from problems due to his age and previous medical problems, but he "has a very strong fiber."

"We were able to move up his discharge by one day," Proietti said. Asked how the pope is now, the doctor replied: "Certainly in good general conditions."

Since he was hospitalized, John Paul has only been seen twice in window prayer appearances and once in his pope mobile as he returned to his private quarters in the Apostolic Palace.