The Man Behind the Pope

With the Pontiff ailing, his secretary gains power

With each of the Pope's excruciating appearances--from the shuffling steps and slurred sermons of last month's trip to Azerbaijan and Bulgaria to his abbreviated meeting at the Vatican last week with President George Bush--speculation has grown that John Paul II may be too enfeebled to continue leading the world's 1 billion Roman Catholics.

Shooing away rumors that he might soon step down from the lifetime charge, Vatican officials insist that the Pope is still sharp mentally. But even his staunchest defenders now concede that Parkinson's disease and an accumulation of other physical trials have left the Pontiff, 82, in an increasingly...

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